Two performances of excerpts from Kottayathu Thampuran’s ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam showcased captivating interpretations on stage.

The fourth part of ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam’, written by Kottayathu Thampuran (1645–1716), was presented at Margi, Thiruvananthapuram. Only one scene of the play was staged: that exquisitely structured and stylised ‘love scene’ between Bhima and Panchali, followed by the hero’s adventure through the thick forest to fetch the divine flowers for his beloved.

Kalamandalam Balasubramanian’s presentation of the pathinja padam (verse in the slowest tempo) beginning with ‘Paanchaalaraajathanayee’ in Sankarabharanam was a treat in itself. The romance (sringara), in tune with the context, was commendably complemented by Margi Vijayakumar’s Panchali.

There was perfect harmony between the ‘kuuttuveshams’ (co-actors). When Panchali invited Bhima’s attention to the fragrance of the flower, the hero’s instantaneous response was that, to him, her charming face appeared much more attractive than the flower. The rasikas’ appreciation of that improvisation was visible on their faces. Weaving into the given convention-bound play text, new strands of the actor’s own imagination makes the presentation refreshing, even when the same narrative is repeated over again.

Balasubramanian’s ‘ilakiyaattam’ (performance interpolation into the original text of the play), involving a description of the frightening forest, was equally impressive. Following the convention, he employed the technique of pakarnaattam to enact the awe-inspiring scene that depicted a wild tusker caught by a huge python and simultaneously attacked by a lion.

The percussion (with Kalamandalam / Margi Krishnadas on the chenda and Margi Ratnakaran on the maddalam), as usual, added grandeur to the performance. The step-by-step increase in the strength of the python and the weakening of the elephant portrayed by Balasubramanian were delightfully correlated with the heaviness and lightness of the accompaniment.

In the same fortnight, Drisyavedi also presented the same scene from ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam’, with a different pair of actors (Kalamandalam Pradeep and RLV Pramod as Bhima and Panchali, respectively) and a welcome addition to the accompanists, which included Kalanilayam Krishnakumar and Kalamandalam Ravisankar (both on the chenda) and Kalamandalam Sankara Variar on the maddalam.

The ambience for the romantic scene was provided by the maddalakeli by Ratnakaran, purappaadu by Margi Sobhitha and Margi Rahitha, and double melappadam with Pathiyur Sankarankutti, the lead singer, ably assisted by Kalanilayam Rajivan.

Kottayathu Thampuran avoided all consonant clusters in the quatrain ‘kaalee kadaachidathha…’, which, while introducing the ‘love scene’, embellishes and enhances the relevant romantic sentiment. The structure and texture of the two padams that follow are also highly suitable to the theme. Their rendering in Sankarabharanam and Mukhari by Kalanilayam Rajivan, supported competently by Kalamandalam Krishnakumar, was superb.

Ratnakaran and Krishnakumar returned with equal prowess all the numbers introduced by Sankara Variar and Krishnadas. The seemingly infinite sangathis and niraval that Sankarankutti introduced while being diligently followed by Rajivan in the charanam, beginning with ‘Mridupavana …’ during the melappadam, seemed to present the audience with countless verbal bouquets to choose from.

Ratnakaran’s inimitable devotion to playing his role in full on the maddalam and Ravisankar’s astonishing control on the chenda were laudable in all respects.

Just before seeing Panchali off the stage, Kalamandalam Pradeep’s Bhima introduced the following innovative interpolation: he is about to decorate his beloved’s hair with the divine flower when his eyes fall on her dishevelled hair.

Realising that she would not enjoy any floral decoration of her hair before it being duly tied by Bhima after anointing it with Dussasana’s blood, he has to keep his word and so sets out in search of the source of the flower. The scene was a commendable flight of imagination.