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Linking the past and the present

GAUTAM CHATTERJEE
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CHAT Kavalam Narayana Panikkar on keeping the tradition of Sanskrit drama alive. GAUTAM CHATTERJEE

Call of the classics Kavalam Narayana Panikkar Photo: Shanker Chakravarty
Call of the classics Kavalam Narayana Panikkar Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

K avalam Narayana Panikkar staged his well-known play “Karnabharam” in Varanasi recently. The play written by Bhasa was presented at Assi ghat near the river Ganga, a kilometre away from the site of the December 7 blast. The production may have been in Malayalam but the audience related well with the pain and joy of the actors, emphasising once more the universal language of theatre. Panikkar, the master of Sanskrit performances, says, “I have been trying, and am still trying to revive the beauty and dignity of this style of doing Sanskrit plays, for the modern audience have come far away from the heart of Indian drama.”

Though Varanasi is maintaining the tradition of doing Sanskrit drama in a superficial and ineffective way, Panikkar appreciates the milieu of this city. He admits, “I love to visit Kashi (the ancient name of the city), the beauty and the charm of this city and the people. This is the Gangotri of the Sanskrit language, philosophy and Sanskrit drama. I am inspired.”

The playwright, director and lyricist narrates why he usually takes up plays of Bhasa. “Lokadharmi, a centre for theatre training, research and performance in Kochi, decided to stage this play of Mahakavi Bhasa . I translated it from Sanskrit and it was designed and directed by Chandradasan. People liked it. Then we travelled across the country with it.”

As to why his productions are all based on the regional drama form, mainly Koodiyattam, he says, “Because all regional and folk drama forms are known to the masses and are popular except Koodiyattam , and secondly, Koodiyattam is the folk form which has been alive in India for a long time, say about 1,000 years, by a community called the Chakyars. We have to protect and preserve them and their art. So in order to preserve both, the Sanskrit plays and this ancient form, I do this.”

The Koodiyattam version of “Karnabharam” staged here had many dramatic moments. Actors made optimum use of the ‘pakarnattam' technique to unravel the mind of Karna, his feelings and his thoughts. The play begins after the death of Dronacharya. Karna, along with Shalyaraj, prepares to leave for the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The actors cultivated well the art of dramatic perseverance and the sense of balance in all aspects like movements, dance and dialogue delivery with equal grace.

“They are trained in dance and other dance forms like Chhau and Koodiyattam. We move towards perfection, and every movement gives that feeling during each moment of performance and not at the end. We pray and worship this art and learn how to preserve it with grace,”he adds.

In order to preserve both, the Sanskrit plays and the ancient form of Koodiyattam, I do these productions.


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