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Viswamitra as king and sage

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ENGROSSING PERFORMANCE: A scene from the Kathakali play ‘Viswamitra,' organised by the Palakkad Kathakali Trust. .
ENGROSSING PERFORMANCE: A scene from the Kathakali play ‘Viswamitra,' organised by the Palakkad Kathakali Trust. .

The story of Viswamitra is unique in Indian mythology and ethos. The Kathakali version of the story presented by P.S.V. Natyasangham for Palakkad Kathakali Trust on February 20 at Chembai Music College at Palakkad in their monthly programme highlighted this in several ways.

Viswamitra was the one who combined Kshatriya and Brahmin traits and ended the dichotomy of the two propagated by Parasuram.

King Viswamitra, on a hunting trip to the forest, reaches the hermitage of Vasishta Maharshi.

The great sage serves sumptuous food for several of the king's men in no time. On inquiry, the king learns that this miracle was possible because of a divine cow, Nandini. He offers 100,000,1 cows in exchange of Nandini. He was told that he could have the cow for free if she is willing. He tries to take her by force.

An angry Nandini produces soldiers from her body and they destroy the king's army. Frustrated, Viswamitra himself takes on the soldiers. The sage intervenes and beseeches the king to abjure violence. The king concedes but vows to acquire Nandini by becoming a great sage himself.

He proceeds to do that by meditation and penance in the forest. Indra, king of heavens, wants to divert his attention and sends divine enchantress Menaka to him for the purpose. Viswamitra falls for her charms and cohabits with her. A girl child is born.

In the meantime, he learns that he was tricked into the situation and angry with this, he leaves the place. Menaka also leaves, discarding the child in front of the hermitage of Kannua Maharshi where she grows up as Sakuntala.

Viswamitra becomes a great sage and visits Kannua's hermitage. Seeing Sakuntala, who resembles Menaka, he makes queries and learns the facts. He also feels sorry that her parents in childhood and husband in youth deserted her. He reveals his identity, proceeds to curse Dushyant, her husband, but was prevented by Sakuntala. He then blesses her so that she will join her husband and her son will become an emperor, ending the play.

E. Somapalan, a Kathakali expert, said that Unnikrishnan as the King and Chandrasekharan Varier as Saint Viswamitra gave creditable performances. Senior and junior Narayanans gave musical support while Prasad and Manish were on the chenda. Ravindran and Subhash handled maddalam expertly, said P.K. Narayanan, Trustee of Palakkad Kathakali Trust.

G. Prabhakaran

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