Arts

The test of fire

A scene from 'Agnipravesankam' Koodiyattam, which was staged in Palakkad.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It is believed that staging of the ‘Agnipravesankam' portion of the work ‘Ascharyachoodamani' had stopped centuries ago. Thanks to earnest efforts made by renowned names in Koodiyattam such as D. Appukkuttan Nair, Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, Moozhikkulam Kochukuttan Chakyar and so on, the play got a new lease of life in the last two decades. Since the play was revived in the early Nineties, it has been staged at a few venues. Recently, a packed auditorium watched the play at Chembai Memorial Government Music College in Palakkad.

What captivated the discerning audience was the manner in which the character of Sita was portrayed by Margi Sathi. That is also the strength of ‘Agnipravesam,' which centres on the predicament of Sita when Rama is filled with doubts about her after she is rescued from Ravana's clutches.

Margi Sajeev Narayana Chakyar, son of Kochukuttan Chakyar, points out: ‘“Anguliyankam' is the most popular portion of ‘Ascharyachoodamani.' However, what distinguishes ‘Agnipravesam' from other Ankams, including ‘Anguliyamkam,' is the importance given to the character of Sita.”

Sita's story

It was Kochukuttan Chakyar, who choreographed the play, based on the script (attaprakaram) written by Madhava Chakyar.

‘Agnipravesankam' begins with Sita, escorted by Sugriva and Hanuman, presenting herself before Rama. Sage Anasuya had given Sita a boon that enabled her to look her best despite living in captivity for long. However, Rama was ignorant about this and so he was surprised to see a lustrous Sita who bore no signs of her travails on her person.

To redeem herself in the eyes of her husband, Sita performs the ritual of ‘Agnipravesam' and escapes unscathed.

The richness of Koodiyattam theatre is made clear to us when we consider the fact that the entire two-hour show revolved around an incident in the Ramayana. Unlike many other art forms, performances in Koodiyattam do not usually involve vigourous movements. Dialogues are in Sanskrit.

Although Margi Usha translated the Sanskrit slokas, the constant beats of the percussion, except when the slokas were sung, made it difficult for the audience to follow the lines.

The artistes were Margi Raman Chakyar (Sugriva), Margi Raveendran (Lakshmana) and Kalamanadalam Charu Agaru (Hanuman). Percussionists who supported the performers were Margi Unnikrishnan Nambiar, Margi Ramanunni and Margi Saji Kumar (mizhavu), Margi Mohanan (thimila) and Margi Unnikrishnan (edakka). Chutti was by Margi Ravikumar.

Scope for histrionics

“In the whole of ‘Ascharyachoodamani,' the character of Sita appears on the stage on four or five occasions. Of these, the Sita of ‘Agnipravesamkam' is important owing to the possibilities of acting it offers. Given the nature of the play and the character being portrayed, I could convey my responses to the other characters only through my expressions.

“On my part, it required expressions that could be expected from an ordinary woman who is slighted by her husband. Mudras alone would not have helped. Also, I get fully involved in my character while on the stage,” says Sathi who has been donning the same role ever since it was staged for the first time in the early 1990s.

Agrees Narayana Chakyar who played Rama: “It is in ‘Agnipravesamkam' that Sita remains on the stage from the beginning to the end.” He, however, points out that Rama is not portrayed in a negative manner.

“The play closes with Rama's announcement that his action would result in the welfare of the world.” The programme was organised jointly by the Palakkad Kathakali Trust and the Kuttiyattam Kendra of the Kendra Sangeet Nataka Academy.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 8:11:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/arts/The-test-of-fire/article16215527.ece

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