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Tough test of devotion

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Of a pious king: Ettumanur P. Kannan enacted the role of Rugmangada in ‘Rugmangadacharitham.’
Of a pious king: Ettumanur P. Kannan enacted the role of Rugmangada in ‘Rugmangadacharitham.’

VINU VASUDEVAN

The complete ‘Rugmangadacharitham’ was staged recently under the initiative of Ettumanur P. Kannan.

Mandavappallil Ittirarichamenon wrote two attakkathas in Kathakali: ‘Santhanagopalam’ and ‘Rugmangadacharitham.’ Both were well received and were well adapted on stage. However the first half of ‘Rugmangadacharitham’ is not often staged. Kathakali artiste Ettumanur P. Kannan took up the challenge of choreographing and staging the entire play in the capital city. He also donned the lead role of King Rugmangada in the play.

Speaking about his effort, Kannan said: “Actually Kathakali is a well structured form that has several elements of art merging in it. However to cope with changes in technology and lifestyles, artistes have to experiment for the growth and development of the art form. In this play I have tried to use some theatre techniques to give it a different look and feel.”

The play, which was divided into two, was staged on two days. ‘Rugmangadacharitham’ narrates the story of the pious King Rugmangada’s devotion towards Lord Mahavishnu and how he overcomes temptations and obstacles to observe Ekadasi. The first half of the play was divided into three scenes.

The first day’s play depicted why the observance of Ekadasi was important in Rugmangadha’s kingdom. The king and his wife, Sandhyavali, go into flash back mode as they recall why they started observing the fast. This is perhaps the first time in Kathakali that this technique of ‘flash back’ was used to narrate past incidents.

Kannan agreed that this change in narrative style was inspired by his exposure to Koodiyattam, theatre and popular cinema. “I have no plans of changing traditional methods of narration in Kathakali. This was just an attempt to see how this technique could be used in Kathakali,” clarifies Kannan.

Highlight

The second scene was the highlight of the entire play. It shows the king and his wife romancing in the gardens. The entry of the royal couple came as a breath of fresh air as they lifted the ‘Thirasheela’ (curtain) and came on to the stage. Usually this kind of an entry is for Kathi (negative) roles in Kathakali.

Kannan’s well-choreographed sequence set to a ‘pathinjapadam’ in Todi made the scene a delight to watch. The king and queen discover that a couple of women were ‘stealing’ flowers from the garden. The king’s attempt to stop the culprits from fleeing by stopping their ‘vimanam (a mythical air-borne vehicle) was another high point of the play as Kannan came up with an inspired piece of acting to portray the scene.

The third scene shows the entry of these women through the ‘sari’ dance, a commonly used technique to introduce ‘apsaras’ in Kathakali. It is when the angry king reproaches them that the women reveal that they are apsaras (heavenly beings). Their grounded ‘vimanam’ can be air borne only with the help of a person observing Ekadasi. Finally, a devout elderly woman saves the day. Having observed Ekadasi, she was able to help the king and save the kingdom from the apsaras’ wrath. That is when the king and his wife start observing the fast.

The second day’s play depicted Mohini’s vain attempt to break Rugmangadha’s fast. This popularly staged part of the play shows the king meeting Mohini and marrying her. On an Ekadasi, Mohini tries to persuade him to break his fast. Despite several provocations, the king sticks to his fast even when Mohini demands that he kill his son. Dharmangadha, the king’s son, enters the scene with Sandhyavali and tells his father to kill him. When the helpless king takes the sword to behead his son, Lord Mahavishnu appears before the king and reveals that the king was being tested to see how true a devotee he is.

Margi Vijayakumar’s scintillating portrayal of Mohini showcased his acting prowess. Kalamandakam Sucheendranath and Kalanilayam Vinod donned the roles of Dharmangadha and Sandhyavali. Kalamandalam Vijayakumar and Shanmughan enacted Brahmanas.

Kalamandalam Babu Nambudiri scored with his outstanding music. Some of his innovations such as the usage of Todi in pathijapadam was exceptionally good. Kalanilayam Rajeev ably supported him on the vocals. Sadanam Ramakrishnan and Kalamamdalam Krishnadas (chenda) and Margi Ratnakaran (maddalam) also played their parts well in making the performance a success.


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