Interesting choreography and intensive portrayals made Harischandra Natakamu a nuanced show.

Harischandra Natakamu, staged during the Bhagavata Mela, Melattur, traced an emotional journey in the lives of the mythological king Harischandra of the Surya Dynasty, his wife Chandramathi and son Rohitaksha.

Sage Viswamitra throws hardships their way to test their adherence to truth. But truth eventually triumphs and Siva and Parvati bless the couple to regain everything that they lost.

The pathos in the script by Venkatrama Sastry overrides any other aspect. The musical score has a surfeit of slow tear-jerking, melodious darus, such as ‘Laksha Koti Jana Raksha’ (Chenchuruti), ‘Kaushika Munni Runna’ (a unique yela padam), ‘Induku Ne’ (Surutti), the pralapa daru ‘Chinni Baala Ee Vela’ (Kurinji) and ‘Sari Poddhu Raayilo’ (Mukhari).

The duration of the nritya-nataka was more than seven hours, spread over two nights. The first day was filled with preliminaries and introductory pravesha darus. The far-sighted choreographers interestingly added a lot of rhythm in these pieces, so one could still be entertained. Harischandra (Melattur S. Kumar) sparkled with his pravesha daru in Khambodi, Adi, ‘Harischandra Maharaja’ with footwork in different speeds and other complexities, as did Chandramathi (N. Srikanth) with the gati bedams in Atana, Tisra Adi piece, ‘Vadalanu Chandramathi.’ In fact, Mangadu Dorairaj Iyer was inspired by the rhythmic component in Bhagavata Mela natakams to create his own style of Bharatanatyam.

Chandramathi, enjoying her life in the forest along with her family, set to a melodious Khambodi, was one of the highlights of the introductory pieces. Another was the Mathanga Kanya (Vijay Madhavan) scene, when Viswamitra sends heavenly damsels to woo Harischandra. The Kalyani swaras were well-executed, but more impressive was his uninhabited wooing of the king.

Chandramathi is incensed by the overtures and tries to protect her husband, and this caused much amusement to the rasikas. Viswamitra (Melattur S. Neelakandan)’s forceful presence and footwork were also impressive. Keshav (Rohitaksha) was a natural.

It was interesting that as a small community of artists, everyone knows every role and can substitute or play multiple roles. For example, R. Varadarajan, a senior artist was Konangi and Nakshatra Iyer the same evening. While nothing was informal on stage, there was an informal atmosphere off stage.

On Day 1, there was a sudden downpour and the action continued, but off it, the locals retired with their chairs into the nearby row houses to watch from dry verandahs!

Non-stop action

Day 2 was only pathos. Harischandra’s dialogue when he has to part with his wife was moving.

Their re-union, when they recognise each other at the cremation ground was yet another excellent scene - Chandramathi (Melattur S. Natarajan) introduces herself and declares her penniless state.

Harischandra recognises her and understands that the dead boy is his son and cries, but his words to her are full of bravado, “You say you have no money, what about the golden mangalsutra around your neck?’’ Significant words, because none other than her husband can see that. There is a pause and suddenly Chandramathi makes the connection; they run towards each other and embrace.

Chandramathi’s drudgery in Kalakantan’s house presented in ‘Intha Ghasi Vache Ha’ in a karuna-inducing Punnagavarali was full of little nuances.

Details of pressing her mistress’ feet, feeding Rohitaksha, drinking water and sleeping; drawing water from the well the next morning, cleaning the verandah, watching and following a neighbour draw a kolam, separating rice and the husk with dust going into her eyes, grinding flour and jamming her finger in the stone pestle – it was 30 minutes of non-stop action.

Another highpoint was the flashback in ‘Medapai Sakulato’ (Durbari Kaanada) when Chandramathi fondly reminisces on the days bygone and compares those days with the present, with delicacy and sensitivity. Such artistry should not be missed.

Credits: Singers – Thiruvaiyaru Brothers – S. Narasimhan and S. Venkatesan, Melattur S. Prabhaharan, Thiruvaiyaru N. Venkatasubramanian and Thiruvaiyaru V. Venkatakrishnan, along with Andaankovil V. Durai (violin) and B. Gokul (flute) and Puducherry Madhusoodanan (mridangam). The child who played innocent-looking Druva was the hapless Rohitaksha on Day 2.

(The writer was in Melattur where Narasimha Jayanthi was celebrated. This play was part of the Bhagavata Mela, organised in connection with the Jayanti.)