Kalamandalam Shanmukhan was the star during a performance of ‘Narakasuravadham’ in the capital city.
Maharaja Karthika Tirunal (1724-1798) of erstwhile Travancore is in the forefront of Kathakali play-wrights who brought majestic ‘kathi’ (depicting shades of negative traits) characters, with all their magnificence to the centre stage.
His ‘Narakasuravadham’ (‘The slaying of the demon Naraka’), co-authored, as per general belief, by his famous nephew Aswati Tirunal (1756 -1794), handles one of the episodes of Lord Krishna’s great victories.
The play received a warm welcome at naatakasaala (theatre) of the Padmanabhaswami temple and became popular far and wide. The role of Narakasura came to be the touch stone of the prowess and stamina of even senior actors whose forte was kathi type of character.
Naraka grew up to be the unrivalled ruler of the demon kingdom. His maid servant Nakratundi captures damsels to gift them to the king. On her way home, she beholds Jayanta, the handsome son of Indra. She approaches him in the guise of Lalitha and tries to woo him in vain.
The disappointed Nakratundi assumes her real form and character and in the ensuing battle, she is mutilated by Jayanta.
Naraka sets out to wreak vengeance. Indra is dethroned and his kingdom devastated.
Full night performances of the play used to consist of 13 scenes culminating in the killing of Naraka by Krishna, assisted by Satyabhama. Performances that begin in the evening in Kathakali clubs usually start with the ‘curtain look’ (tiranottam) of Nakratundi and end with Naraka’s conquering of the heavens. But a recent performance of the play as Drisyavedi’s programme in May staged the following three scenes only: Lalitha and Jayanta, Naraka and his wife, and Naraka and Indra.
The ‘sari’ dance in Kathakali refers to the dance interlude consisting of the graceful and often enchanting appearance of a female character. Lalitha’s ‘saari’ and the following ‘padam’ presenting her proposal to Jayanta involve a number of challenges. But Kalamandalam Shanmukhan did full justice to it and within a few minutes of his entry, stole the heart of all rasikas. The perfection manifest in the emotional (saatvika) and gestural (aamgika) aspects of his presentation and also his costume-cum-make up (aahaarya) was noteworthy.
Kalamandalam Harinarayanan handled the role of Naraka in a commendable manner. The exuberance of self-confidence and heroic sentiment that permeated his performance was becoming to the intrinsic nature of the character he presented. RLV Pramod enacted the part of Naraka’s wife and Kalanilayam Manoj the roles of Jayanta and Indra.
Music handled impeccably by Kottakkal Narayanan, was ably supported by Kamandalam Rajesh. Kalamandalam Ravisankar and Kalanilayam Sreejan were on the chenda and Kalamandalam Hari and Sreekanteswaram Mohanachandran on the maddalam.