Two days and a night of Nangiarkoothu was the best tribute to Chandralekha.
It was December 29. Facing the sea in Chennai’s 1, Eliot’s Beach Road, a congregation of artistes and art lovers at Chandralekha’s home paid fond homage to this stormy petrel of the dance world on her second death anniversary. Under the stewardship of Sadanand Menon and Dasarath Patel, the just completed, exquisitely artistic Chandra-Mandala Theatre, round the space where Chandralekha practised and performed for years with her troupe, was inaugurated with two days and a night of Koodiyattam, the rare remnant of ancient classical theatre from Kerala, declared an intangible heritage by UNESCO.
For conveying emotion through each gesture, bodily attitude and facial expression, Koodiyattam actors are unbeatable. Chandra herself, a great believer in slowing time in all her works, disliked the rapid pace of dance to-day, echoing fast moving pace of life. She was also a great admirer of Guru Ammanur Madhava Chakkiyar the recently departed Koodiyattam maestro to whom also homage was paid.
Shankhadhwani and lighting of the giant oil lamp on the stage began the performance. Seated below in geometrically designed space open to the skies, audience enjoyed the green canopy provided by foliage from tree branches gracefully extending into this auditorium space. Indu G. Nair of Natanakairali Research and Performing Centre for Traditional Arts presented Nangiarkoothu with Govardhanodharam directed by Margi Madhu. At Krishna’s behest, the people’s yagna for appeasing Indra to ensure plentiful rain is dedicated instead to the Govardhana mountain whose forests, peaks, valleys and rivers provide shelter and rain. An enraged Indra sends down pounding rain, the deluge threatening to drown all, till Krishna holds the mountain aloft as an umbrella sheltering the people. Indra stands humbled. The sharp, achingly slow moving eye glances, sideways, downwards, and up and down to express the width, the valley depth and height of the mountain with the percussion on the mizhavu copper drum and the edakka marking the pulse of the performance had every moment etched and held in, creating a tension making the spectator sit at the edge of his seat.
Based on Jayadeva’s verse “Vedanuddharate Jagannivahate” exceptionally talented Kapila Venu presented Koormavataram the next evening. The manner in which Kapila uses her eyes, serene like a calm pool or bulging out of the sockets or drawn inwards, the still head and concentration with the face visibly shrinking to express grief and opening out flower-like, lighting up to express happiness is yogamental and physical energies focussed at one point. Underplayed yet vivid, was the image of serpent Vasuki (the churning rope), fatigued and vomiting out its poison. Kalamandalam Rajeev and Kalamandalam Hariharan on the mizhavu through tonal variety created moods with Unnikrishnan’s edakka and Nirmala Paniker’s talam, combining in an exhilarating performance.
Incensed with desire
The no-holds-barred enactment of Margi Madhu as Ravana in Ashokavanikangam expressing unrequited desire for Sita, was Kama at its height, its enacted manifestation almost too strong to take, for the audience seated close to the stage. Taking a whole half hour to move less than a couple of yards from the side of the stage to the centre, Ravana conjures up the unlikely image of a highly seductive Sita.
Describing her beauteous form, he faints, incensed with desire. “Of what use your chastity when you can have the pleasures of Kailasa and the garden of Heaven with me?” he asks. As the daughter of the Earth, the wife of all Kings, how are you so obsessed with chastity?” The enactment of searing passion made one’s hair stand on end. In the description of Ashokavana, through the dramatic device of flashbacks, the hamsa (swan), garuda (eagle) and peacock portrayed were amazingly distinctive, a minimalist gait and arms flailing as wings bringing out the differences.