‘Rukminiswayamvaram' Kathakali, which was staged in Palakkad recently, had some exceptional performances and some innovative features. Vinu Vasudevan

Lord Krishna is the central character in all of Aswathi Tirunal's Kathakali attakathas. One of his plays – ‘Rukminiswayamvaram' – was staged at the M.D. Ramanathan Hall in Palakkad recently. However, in this staging, Rukmini was the central character of the play. The highlight of the play was the episode featuring the messenger Sundarabrahmanan.

Women in the role

The three-hour-long performance started with an unusual ‘Thodayam. In a marked departure from custom, the ‘Thodayam – a prayer to the Lord, the first item that every student of Kathakali learns – was performed by four young female artistes – Arya Parappur, Gana Murali, Renu Gokuldas and Saranya. This may well be the first time in the history of Kathakali that the Thodayam was performed by female artistes. Usually this item is not performed by female artistes, because male artistes traditionally perform this bare-chested. The quartet's costume was especially designed by their guru Kalamandalam Venkitaraman. The four artistes lived up to expectations with a rather interesting performance.

The part of ‘Rukminiswayamvaram' that was staged here began with Rukmini lamenting over her brother Rukmi's decision to marry her off to Sisupala, the King of Chedi. In the throes of angst, the lovelorn Rukmini tells her most trusted aide Sundarabrahmanan of her love for Lord Krishna and how she hopes to marry him.

Sunadarbrahmanan in turn consoles her and assures her that he would meet Lord Krishna on her behalf. He keeps his promise and Sundarabrahmanan returns to Rukmini and assures her that Krishna would save the day. In this performance, only the most important portions were performed. The text of the play also includes episodes such as Krishna's fight with Sisupala and the actual swayamvaram (marriage).

Kalamandalam Sajan performed the role of Rukmini with élan. He was especially striking in the scene where Rukmini tells Sundarabrahmanan of her problems. Veteran artiste Kalamandalam Kolppuram Kesavan Nambudiri, who is known for female roles, donned the role of Sundarabrahmanan.

Here the term ‘Sundara' does not mean beauty, instead it means messenger. Kesavan Nambudiri, an actor known for his sense of humour while emoting, gave a studied interpretation of the character. In the padam ‘Chithathapam Aruthe...,' in which the Sundarabrahmanan requests Rukmini for equanimity, Nambudiri was perfectly balanced in style and structure.

Although the attakatha is not structurally very rigid, some padams do require copious practice on the part of the performer. In the third scene with Krishna, he skilfully managed the manodharma atams.

Up-and-coming artiste Kalamandalam Harinarayanan, a lecturer at Kerala Kalamandalam, gave a smart depiction of the always composed Krishna. His fine enactment of the padam ‘Medini deva...' was a good example of his skills. The ‘edakkalasam,' which he performed in between the padam ‘Kesari varanude bhagamithorthal...,' was exceptionally good as were his cholliyattam and mudras.

Kalamandalam Jayaprakash rendered the padams with perfect bhava. Kalamandalam Sreejith gave him good vocal support. Interestingly, both the singers sounded alike. Kalamandalam Hareesh and Kalamandalam Venu accompanied on the chenda and the maddalam, respectively. The play was held under the aegis of the Palakkad Kathakali Trust.