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Tale of two mothers

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Play of sentiments: A scene from ‘Krishna Leela.’
Play of sentiments: A scene from ‘Krishna Leela.’

BHAWANI CHEERATH

‘Krishna Leela,’ staged 250 times in the last five years, focusses on Sri Krishna’s childhood as seen through the eyes of Yashoda and Devaki.

Five years ago, on 25 November 2003, Ambalapuzha Sree Krishnaswamy Natakashala was the venue for the maiden Kathakali performance of ‘Krishna Leela’ under the aegis of the Sandarshan Kathakali Vidyalayam. Looking back, it seems as if divine grace has bestowed its blessings on the production because the scoreboard today stands at 250 venues in five years. No mean achievement, this.

The attakatha written by P.Venugopalan, based on Sree Krishna’s balaleelas as shared between the two mothers, one the foster (Yashoda) and the other the biological (Devaki), gives immense scope for pakarnnattam.

Scope for sthriveshams

The author takes the liberty of creating a situation where Sree Krishna brings the two mothers together, thereby expanding the total scope for bhava abhinaya. In sharing the facets of the son with each other, both Devaki (Margi Vijayakumar) and Yashoda (Kalamandalam Shanmukhan) displayed the tender maternal emotions with an élan that could not be missed.

According to Dr. Venugopalan, the performance offers immense scope for sthriveshams and it was his intention of exploiting this innate potential that made him take up the theme. The Usha-Chitralekha pair made famous by the masters Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and Kudamaloor Karunakaran Nair is considered the masterpiece as far as strong female roles in Kathakali go. Close on its heels is the powerful exposition by the Yashoda-Devaki combination for the built-in strength in the characters.

The play ‘Krishna Leela’ commences with young Krishna setting out to see his mother seeking the warmth of her love and embrace. The mother who could only see him as Lord Vishnu, her saviour, prostrates before her son. Devaki expresses her desire to hear about his childhood. None other than Yashoda, the foster mother, can do it.

The success of the ‘Krishna Leela’ here is assigned to the manner in which the performers have persevered to take the portrayals to exalted levels with each performance.The poignancy in Devaki’s fate as the mother who could nurse none of her eight children; her sufferings, and the solace offered by Krishna vie with Yashoda’s narration of all signs of divinity as visible through ‘Poothanamoksham,’ ‘Kaliyamardanam,’ ‘Govardhanoddharanam’ and so on, which were emoted in an exemplary manner.

While the two artistes as Devaki and Yashoda proved sparring partners in their attempt to excel, it was the percussion that lent absolute power to the abhinaya unfolding before us. “Kalanilayam Manoj and Kalamandalam Shanmukhan enhance the total effect with the fine rapport they have built up over the years,” says Venugopalan.

The music set for the 10 padams and five slokams in this attakatha was composed by Babu Nambudiri. Veterans like Sankaran Embranthiri have lent voice to these verses without a single alteration, which only speaks of the quality of the compositions.

When the curtains come down on the 150-minute performance of ‘Krishna Leela,’ the words of Dr. P. Venugopalan play back in the memory: “In the hands of the talented artistes, the play has acquired a stature.”


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