The staging of 'Bakavadham' at Palakkad highlighted the 'Asari vesham'.
Among the structurally perfect attakathas in Kathakali, Kottayam Thampuran's stories stand out. Thampuran's four plays – 'Bakavadham', ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam,' ‘Kalakeyavadham' and ‘Kirmeravadham'– taken from the Vanaparvam of the Mahabharatha narrate the trails and tribulations of the Pandavas. Among them ‘Bakavadham,' though full of lyrical beauty and exemplary character delineation, is one that is rarely staged in full because of its length.
The story line
'Bakavadham' usually starts with the circumstances of Bhima's marriage to Hidumbi and how they go their separate ways after the birth of their son Khadolkachan. Vidurar, meanwhile, anticipates Duryodana's intention to torch the Pandavas' house and sends a carpenter to make a secret passage for the brothers to escape. After their escape the Pandavas reach the village of Ekachakra where they encounter the demon Baka. Bheema sets out to kill Baka at the request of the villagers and his mother, Kunthi. In the recently staged performance of ‘Bakavadham' at Palakkad, the entry of the carpenter and the fight between Bhima and Baka were staged.
The carpenter or asari in the play stands out for his costume and performance manual. Although the character has a systematic text and choreography, the performance is more of a Lokadharmi style of acting. The costume is also different for it does not resemble typical Kathakali gear. Rather the character is shabbily dressed and does not match the tempo of the script.
Koppan Nair, the first guru of the late Vazhenkada Kunju Nair, was the actor who made the ‘Asari vesham' popular. He was, in fact, renowned as ‘Asari Koppan.' In this performance, veteran artiste Nelliyode Vasudevan Nambudiri delineated the role with élan, with beautiful kalasams and gestures; his body language was in perfect accordance with that required for the character. The septuagenarian's energetic adakkams and thonkarams (footwork) for the padam ‘Njanoru gahuaram theerkam….' was outstanding. The wood-cutting scenes too were full of Lokadharmi.
The other main characters in the play – Bheema and Baka – were donned by Sadanam Manikandan and Kavungal Divakara Panicker, respectively. Divakara Panicker, exhibited with excellence the inner fire and strength of the cruel Baka.
Sadanam Manikandan, a follower of Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair school of Kathakali, eased into the role of the victorious Bheema.
Kalamandalam Arun Warrier and Vellinezhi Haridasan enacted Dharmaputhra and Kunthi, respectively.
Nedumpalli Rammohan and Sadanam Jyotish Babu were the singers. Rammohan displayed good stage control and his involvement in the performance earned him praise. Kalamandalam Balasundaran and Sadanam Ramakrishnan on the chenda and Nadaraja Warrier and Sadanam Prasad on the maddalam contributed towards the success of the play.
The play was organised by the Kathakali Trust of Palakkad.