Banaras Hindu University witnessed an array of interesting cultural events, including a Koodiyattam performance.
Koodiyattam, the ancient Indian dance drama form, has been watched by the people of Kerala for nearly a thousand years. It was traditionally performed only in temples by the Chakiar males and Nambiar females. One of the prominent performers was Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar who revived this art form in the last century and authored a book titled “Natya Kalpadrum”, which compiles every aspect of this traditional theatre art. Over the past few years Koodiyattam has witnessed a revival of interest. Varanasi was privileged to watch a Koodiyattam performance recently when artistes from the Kerala Centre of Koodiyattam of Thiruvananthapuram came to Banaras Hindu University under the auspices of Jnana Pravaha.
The title of the performance was “Shurpanakhankam”, taken from Shaktibhadra’s “Ashcharyachoodamani”. This particular piece depicts the life of Ram, Sita and Lakshman in Panchavati and includes the episode of the disfigurement of the demoness Shurpanakha at the hands of Lakshman.
The entire team including Margi Raman (Ram), Margi Usha (Sita), Margi Ravindran (Lakshman) and Margi Sajeev Narayan Chakyar (Shurpanakha) brought alive the essence of this art form that is magnificent in its austerity. . The performance started with a long recital by a pair of avanaddha (covered) instruments called mizhavu, played skilfully by Margi Raman Unni and P.K. Harish Nambiar. .
In ancient times every Indian drama used to start with a purvarang portion that was packed with songs (Dhruva gaan) and musical instruments (Kutap) and not with dramatic scenes, according to instructions found in the Natya Shastra.
Similarly, this performance started with a purvarang. The main actors then came on stage and portrayed a range of emotions through facial expressions. Raman, Usha and Sati displayed the crux of Koodiyattam with songs and technical face expressions, whereas Sajeev Chakyar stole the show by representing Shurpanakha with fitting crudity. Margi Unnikrishnan and Kumari Revati accompanied them on edakka and talam respectively. Margi Ravikumar was in charge of chutti (make-up) and Jobi of aniyara.
After this performance, noted Sanskrit scholar and actor Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi said that UNESCO has made concerted attempts to preserve this art form, since it is one of the oldest surviving dance forms.
Another day, on the same premises, noted sitarist Krishna Chakravarty rendered raga Kalawati Kalyan on her sitar. This artiste initially learnt from her sitarist husband Ram Narayan Chakravarty. After that, she learnt the finer aspects of the sitar from Pandit Ravi Shankar. To discover the true essence (swarup) of raga Kalawati, she touched the finer nuances of the notes. She has mastered the art of initiating and completing a raga.
Finally, in the same campus, a young Sri Lankan artiste, Sanjay Mihindu Parera sang some folk and regional songs with his troupe at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. He also presented some melodious tribal songs, and finally his team performed an instrumental fusion with creative enthusiasm.