A staging of ‘Bakavadham’ in Palakkad threw light on the inherent complexities in the attakatha.
‘Bakavadham’ Kathakali, the first of Kottayathu Thampuran’s four attakathas, never achieved as much popularity as his three other plays. Perhaps, this is because of the complexity of its structure and its taxing techniques. Also with the coming of more riveting plays such as ‘Dakshayagam’, ‘Duryodhanavadham’, and ‘Prahladacharitham’, ‘Bakavadham’ lost its significance.
The play narrates the Pandavas’ life in exile in the forest. Although Kottayathu Thampuran intended it to be an all-night long play, for two or three centuries now only abridged versions of the play have been staged. There are three main sections in this play and each one is around two to three hours in duration.
The first part details how the Pandavas flee from the lac bungalow with the help of Khanaka, a carpenter, who makes a tunnel for them to escape from being trapped in Duryodhana’s evil plans. The second part narrates the romance between Hidumbi and Bhima that eventually culminates in their wedding. The third and final part portrays Bhima’s fight with Baka.
The last part of the play was presented at Puthanalkkal Bhagavathi Temple, Cherpulassery, near Palakkad.
This staging began with a Brahmin from Ekachakra village telling Kunthi about the demon Baka, who plagues the village. Each family in the village has to sacrifice a kin to feed the demon. It is the Brahmin’s turn to supply food. Taking pity on the Brahmin’s plight, Kunthi sends her son Bhima to Baka. Bhima kills the demon and frees the villagers from the menace of Baka.
The role of Baka is regarded to be one of the major among the chuvanna thadi roles. Yesteryear legend Vellinezhi Nanu Nair was renowned for this role.
Versatile artiste Kottakkal Devadas, who has made a name for himself in chuvanna thadi roles, came up with a masterly portrayal of Baka; his roars and energetic movements were a treat to watch. His initial manodharma attam, which depicts Baka’s hunger and impatience, was well enacted as were his improvisations during the demon’s dying moments.
Kalamandalam Soman donned the role of Bhima with ease. To perform the role of Bhima, an artiste needs a firm grounding in structure and rhythm. Soman succeeded in making his role memorable.
Vellinezhi Haridas’ Kunthi was impressive. Sadanam Bhasi portrayed the role of Brahmin. Even though the role was too brief for an artiste of his stature, his portrayal was impeccable. Kottakkal Vengeri Narayanan and Kottakkal Vineesh were the singers. Kalamandalam Balasundaran (chenda) played an important role in the success of the play. Cherpulassery Hariharan (maddalam) and Kalamandala Sreeraj (chenda) supported him.