Titles of Kathakali plays often end in the word ‘vadham’, meaning slaying. This common practise appears to have prompted Palakkattu Amrita Sastri (1815-1877) to call his single play Lavanasuravadham (‘Slaying the Demon Lavana’). Lavana, however, seems to have never appeared on the stage and his slaying by Satrughna, Rama’s youngest brother, constitutes an insignificant part of the episode. Its theme is from Uthararamayana , relating to Rama’s grand ‘horse sacrifice’ (‘asvamedham’), conducted while Sita lived in Sage Valmiki’s hermitage with her twins, Kusa and Lava.
As usual, a recital of Lavanasuravadham began with Kusa and Lava seeking their mother’s permission to roam and have fun in the forest. Kalamandalam Shanmughan, in the role of Sita, proved again that he could do justice to any type of character in Kathakali, other than, perhaps, the bearded ones. From the beginning to the end, he ensured his position as a consummate actor and teacher. As a seasoned trainer, he guided every movement of the junior artistes and ensured the overall perfection of the performance.
Sita allowed the boys to venture into the forest only after duly testing their prowess in archery and self-confidence in facing challenges. Yadukrishnan and Pranav Pradip, sons of Shanmughan and Kalamandalam Pradip, who appeared subsequently as Hanuman in the play, diligently essayed the roles of Kusa and Lava respectively.
To his surprise, Lava encounters a huge horse and a proclamation written across its brow that whoever disputes the supremacy of Rama, the greatest monarch in the world, should capture the animal. Lava enthusiastically implements his sibling’s instruction to take the horse into custody.
Satrughna, the valiant slayer of the demon Lavana, won the duel with Lava but could not withstand the terrible onslaught of Kusa. Kalamandalam Arun Raju donned the role of Satrughna flawlessly.
Subsequently, after the conventional debut (‘thiranottam’), Hanuman appears on the scene and identifies the boys as the children of Sita and Rama. Hanuman aspires for an audience with Sita and so he provokes the boys to take him into custody and produce him as their booty in front of their mother.
The legendary Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair and Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair imbibed from Kavalappara Narayanan Nair, their guru, the nuances of enacting Hanuman and passed on that style with certain modifications to their disciples. Kalamandalam Pradip’s portrayal of that major role came good in every respect.
Hanuman’s meeting with Sita was poignant. Kalamandalam Jayaprakash, the principal singer, rose to the occasion. His rendering of the play text in conventional ragas such as Kamboji, Bhairavi, Mohanam, Madhyamavati and Saramga was impeccable. But in the final scene, the piece in Natakurinji appeared to fall a little short of maintaining the ideal level of pitch. Despite a few mispronunciations, Sadanam Sayikumar’s contribution as the assistant singer was up to the mark.
Hanuman asks Sita whether she was comfortable in the famous padam ‘Sukhamo devi’. That kept the audience spellbound.
Hanuman’s information that the horse captured by the children was Rama’s sacrificial horse upsets Sita. She wonders who had taken her place during the rituals? Shanmughan’s portrayal of that emotion-charged moment was superb: Sita could not sit any more. Thoroughly shaken, she stands up, tears flowing from her eyes.
Hanuman explains to her that as per Rama’s order, a golden figure of Sita was to be placed near him during the ritual. This flight of improvisation added by the ace actors showcased their skill in stepping into the skin of a character.
Thrippunithura Gopikrishnan Thampuran’s chenda and Kalamandalam Vinith’s maddalam together provided the right ambience.