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When Death meets his end

Jaya Narayanan Pisharoty
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Play ‘Anthakavadham’ narrates the story of Markandeya, who is saved from the clutches of death by Lord Shiva. Jaya Narayanan Pisharoty

‘Anthakavadham’ is the story of Markandeya who fled from Yama or Anthaka (Lord of Death) and sought refuge in Lord Shiva. The God slew Anthaka to protect his devotee. The play begins with a childless couple, sage Mrighandu and his wife, praying for progeny. They are given a choice of a hundred wicked sons or one pious but short-lived son. Thus, Markandeya is born, but is promised life only up to the age of 16.

‘Anthakavadham’, penned and directed by octogenarian P.K. Narayanan Nambiar (son of the legendary Mani Madhava Chakyar), is a one-act play, the presentation of which usually takes four days. The present performance opened with the scene of Markandeya’s mother (played by Vasanthi Narayanan) serving her son a feast on his 16th birthday and mourning the loss that is to come later that day. As Markandeya, (enacted by Swathi N. Nambiar) eats, Yamaraja arrives to claim his prize. The rangapravesham of Anthaka/Yamaraja was a splendid one, full of sound and colour. Sarath Narayanan as Anthaka was impressive. The boy flees in fear to the shrine of Navamukunda and falls at His feet. Navamukunda directs him to Lord Shiva at the nearby temple of Thriprangode. Markandeya pleads to Lord Shiva who engages Anthaka in a battle and vanquishes him. Thereafter, Shiva is also known as Kalanthaka (one who destroyed Anthaka). A touching scene follows, where Shiva speaks lovingly to his devotee, asking him why he was so afraid.

The Anguliyankam and so on, present a single character relating the story and donning the various roles himself, relying mainly on facial expressions. However, this performance featured many characters. Anthaka’s entry was full of energy. P.K. Unnikrishnan Nambiar, P.K. Sreejith Nambiar and Satheesh on the mizhavu and Girish Marar on the edakka used rhythm to effectively convey the drama. C.K. Jayanthi provided the thalam.

At the end of the performance, one of the characters dons the role of Sutradharan. This is symbolically conveyed through the knotting of the ‘poitakam’ or attire. ‘Poitakam’ is a white skirt worn by male Koodiyattom characters. Tucking the lower end of it to the waist (and releasing it afterwards) is an action used while the actor is involved in pakarnattam. At the end of this performance of ‘Anthakavadham’, in a sequence called, ‘Bharatavakyam’, Hareesh Nambiar (who played Shiva) appeared as the Sutradharan. He related the entire story, which describes Lord Shiva’s prowess. After this, ‘Mutiyakkitha’ or ceremonial closure was enacted. The ‘Mutiyakkitha’ is an action when the lead actor in the play appears on stage after removing his headgear. He takes one of the three wicks of the lamp on stage and drops it indicating the end of the play. Hareesh Nambiar enacted this gesture, which is symbolically connected to the ritual of burning the yagashala at the end of a yagna. Like in most classical art forms, especially those related to temple art, there is a prescriptive format for each enactment.

The play was presented by students of Mani Madhava Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam in Lakkidi.

This performance of ‘Anthakavadham’, while being faithful to tradition, introduced the fading art form to the younger generation in an interesting and effective manner, through its theatrical quality. This was especially facilitated by the lecture demonstration that preceded the performance, detailing the finer points, thus equipping the audience to understand and appreciate this ancient art form.

The Kuttiyattam Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram, of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi organises a series of lecture demonstrations and performances in educational institutions across the State to introduce and explain it to the younger generation. ‘Anthakavadham’ was staged at Ahalia Ayurveda Medical College, Palakkad.


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