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The story of Panchali, as Therukoothu

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Glittering act: The Kannappa Thambiran troupe performs ‘Panchali Sabadham’ at the Corporation Ground in Chennai as part of Chennai Sangamam.
Glittering act: The Kannappa Thambiran troupe performs ‘Panchali Sabadham’ at the Corporation Ground in Chennai as part of Chennai Sangamam.

J. Malarvizhi

Troupe interjects earthy humour into tried and true tale

CHENNAI: The devotees of Veerabadra twirled swords, kept time to the percussion of hand-held drums and paid their obeisance to the deity, draped with strings of knotted mullai (jasmine) flowers, on the Chennai Sangamam stage at the Corporation Ground in Trustpuram on Sunday.

The beat of the drums rose to a feverish pitch and devotees broke coconuts over their heads in a frenzy of devotion at the climax of the ceremony. This has only been performed in Veerabadra’s temple and is being done in public for the first time, the anchor of the show announced. The Sevaiyattam ceremony is unique to the indigenous group called Kurumans.

The audience for the evening waited with somewhat less patience while the Kannappa Thambiran troupe got ready to perform ‘Panchali Sabadham’ as Therukoothu (street theatre).

The backdrop of the stage was a representation of deep forest and small facades of thatched huts. A guardian deity fiercely sat his ground, while a young man clambered on to his lap to set up the cardboard aruval (sickle). The troupe finally arrived, resplendent with glittering costumes and elaborate face paint. The story of how Panchali, the wife of the five Pandavas, was lost in a game of dice is recounted briefly and the villain dispatched to drag her in by the hair. The tearful Panchali finds no solace in her five husbands and appeals to Lord Krishna when all seems lost.

After divine intervention, her saree grows longer and longer.

The tried and true tale was presented with a few interjections of earthy humour and the crowd around the stage seemed to be growing as magically as Panchali’s sari. By the time the Kurumans came on, the space between the stage and the seats were occupied by large groups of children. As the coconuts broke and scattered, they cheered with a standing ovation.

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