Sets and histrionics are the strengths of Vadhavooran presented by Shraddha.

“Shraddha”, the Tamil theatre group carries the viewer along on a tide of spirituality though its latest offering “Vaadhavooran.” The play is being presented at the Narada Gana Sabha auditorium for four days up to February 4. It deals with the Saivite devotee Vaadhavooran and his divine obsession that leads him to renovate the Tiruperunturai Avudiyar Koil.

Vadhavooran is the Chief Minister to the Pandya king who gives him an enormous amount of gold coins to buy purebred horses for his cavalry. A staunch devotee of Siva, the Minister diverts the funds to the construction of the temple and thus earns the wrath of the ruler. He is imprisoned and tortured. But his faith in his chosen god and his actions is as unshakeable as his conviction that He will stand by him. So He does sending the devotee the Arab steeds as promised. But when they turn into foxes and overrun the Pandya capital, the king is enraged and orders further torture for Vaadhavooran.

Now, is the devotee justified in diverting the funds? Is it permissible according to the laws of governance, statecraft and human conduct?

The director of the play G. Krishnamurthy, who conceived the story line has fleshed out the bare theme giving it fullness and depth. The script and dialogue by C.P. Aaryaan explore the soul searching of an individual who, fuelled by his passionate belief, embarks on a traumatic spiritual journey.

Vaadhavooran‘s love for the lord expresses itself in mellifluous outpourings of words which later earn him the name of Manickavachagar. His sublimal hymns constitute the Thiruvachagam. The play knits together philosophy and the yearning for the divine in a totally absorbing manner. Fiction and fact, legend and history, the temporal and the spiritual come together in a cohesive whole.

The whole edifice of making it work convincingly rests on the shoulders of Swaminathan Ganesan, who plays the lead role. It was a brilliant, marathon performance - delicately nuanced and deeply felt. To carry off the passionate belief in the divine and to sustain it for the entire duration of the play is a formidable task but Swaminathan rose to the challenge, never once veering into melodrama. He was able to communicate the inner struggle and the pain of the protagonist which made light of physical suffering. The other actors lent good support especially Vijay Viswanathan and Aaryan as manifestations of Siva. They played their difficult roles with insight.

Krishnamurthy as the king, A. Girish as the general, Kavitha Sivakumar as Vadhavooran’s wife, little Tejaswani Vijay as his daughter did their bit. G. Ramesh as the jailor, who poses questions and yet clears the protagonist’s doubts, was convincing.

This is a historical and spiritual play marked by a sense of sophistication and subtlety. But there is too much focus on the scenes in prison and the end is wrapped up rather hurriedly with the scene of the too loud thunder and lightning remaining unclear. The sets (design by G. Ramesh and execution by Mallikarajun Rao) are some of the best ever seen on the sabha scene in recent times. Special mention should be made of the interior of prison and home, the rocky outdoors with the lone tree and the sand-filled landscape.

Great attention has been paid to the music (composers: Giridharan and Amudhan). The singing by Giridharan was low and emotional but some of the tunes had the feel of the cinema. The lip synchronisation in some of the songs was faulty and initially, the dialogue could not be heard clearly. The costume is well designed, not the tinselly outfits that have been the staple of Tamil historical plays. The special effects that evening swept viewers off their feet especially when the horses came thundering into the auditorium followed by the foxes streaming in sometime later.

Shraddha’s tribute to the life and work of one of the greatest Saivite saints has helped raise the bar for this genre of plays in the Tamil mainstream theatre.