Natyadharmi 2019 proved five days of aesthetic delight

The Koodiyattam festival showcased all schools of the art form, featuring artistes, young and old

Updated - February 20, 2019 03:53 pm IST

Published - February 20, 2019 03:52 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

PKG Nambiar performing ‘Rajasooyam’ Chakyarkoothu

PKG Nambiar performing ‘Rajasooyam’ Chakyarkoothu

The multi-hued splendour of one of the world’s oldest theatre traditions came vividly alive at Natyadharmi 2019 held at Thrissur. The five-day Koodiyattam festival showcased a wide canvas — percussion ensembles based on mizhavu, lecture-demonstrations by senior gurus, Chakyarkoothu, Nangiarkoothu and Koodiyattam recitals. It was also a coming together of all Koodiyattam schools, with the artistes ranging from the 88-year-old PKG Nambiar to 16-year-old Nepathya Sreehari Chakyar.

With exhaustive 12-hour programmes, the festival featured 27 performances and two documentary screenings. It was an aesthetic delight. Koodiyattam differs from most other theatre forms because the storyline is not its main focus. It is more an interpretation of dialogue into visual commentary. The actor has the liberty to go beyond the text to launch an elaborate description of a scene or an action and then come back to the story. This is what makes Koodiyattam a stern test for the actor and an exciting watch for the spectator.

The cosy ambience at the smallish venue, the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi’s Black Box, helped the audience focus on the performance and share an intimate experience. Such a festival, apart from its entertainment value, is relevant for another important reason, as festival director Ettumanoor P Kannan pointed out: “It is incumbent on all of us, art lovers and society, to preserve and celebrate this long unbroken theatre tradition.”

The first Nangiarkoothu of the festival was by senior artiste and teacher Kalamandalam Shylaja. She chose ‘Vrindavanavarnana’ where Krishna and Balarama, along with friends, visit the famous garden. In elaborate detail and with great flair, Shylaja expressively described the various features of the garden — the trees, the creepers, the bees buzzing around and drinking nectar from the flowers, the birds singing and peacocks dancing. An enjoyable walkabout around an exquisite garden.

Subhadranuragam Nangiarkoothu by Saritha TR started with Devaki happily residing in Dwaraka with her sons Krishna and Balarama. The focus of the episode shifts to Subhadra growing into a beautiful woman, Krishna teaching her martial arts and plotting her marriage to Arjuna. The sequence that Saritha performed with consummate ease was Subhadra’s education in martial arts and learning to ride a chariot — Subhadra’s playfulness and initial trepidation, and Krishna’s indulgence and encouragement were all brought out masterfully by Saritha.

Another masterclass was by Indu G who performed Uthararamacharitam Nangiarkoothu. She performed the segment where Rama returns to Panchavati and reminisces about the time he spent with Sita there years ago. Indu described Rama coming across the baby elephant, which was Sita’s foster son, that has now grown up and was seen cavorting with its mate. He also spots a peacock and recognises it as the one Sita lavished her love on and taught how to dance. Indu made the class a visual delight — first displaying the hesitant missteps of the peacock, then how it slowly gains confidence with Sita’s loving persuasion, until it finally becomes a proficient dancer. Percussion support by Kalamandalam Manikandan and Nepathya Jinesh on the mizhavu and Kalanilayam Rajan on the edakka was commendable.

In Koodiyattam, the nirvahanam or recapitulation segment, where the actor describes past events and history of a character, is perhaps more entertaining to watch, and more challenging for an actor. That’s because nirvahanam is a solo act involving pakarnnaattam , where the actor represents multiple characters — a theatrical device that demands great skill and aesthetic capabilities.

In the first solo segment of the festival, Kalamandalam Kanakakumar presented Subhadradhananjayam - Day 2 in which Arjuna, having caught a glimpse of Subhadra while saving her from a demon, describes her beauty and expresses his love for her without knowing her true identity. Kanakakumar acted out the famous sloka ‘Chalakuvalaya’ in which the actor describes Subhadra playing with her companions. The two companions dressing her up — braiding the hair, applying make-up and putting on ornaments, and realising much to their chagrin that they have forgotten to apply mascara on her eyes — were all described in detail and with great finesse by Kanakakumar.

In Balivadhankam , Kalamandalam Sangeeth Chakyar presented Bali, who was angry after being challenged by Sugreeva. Bali’s wife Tara tries to dissuade him but is brushed aside. He boasts to Tara that Sugreeva had no chance even if Vishnu were to help him. In describing Vishnu’s prowess, he acts out the story of Narasimha briefly but powerfully. Bali then goes on to describe his past feats to show how powerful he is. Sangeeth admirably acted out the story of the churning of Palazhi where he single-handedly used the snake Vasuki as a rope to churn the ocean after the Devas and Asuras were tired. It was a very convincing portrayal of a popular character in Koodiyattam though one felt he was constrained for time.

Another mighty character was portrayed by Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar on the last day. The theme of ‘Cheriya Udyanapravesam’ in Ascharyachoodamani is of Ravana proposing to Sita who is seated in Asokavanika gardens. He pleads, he cajoles, he shows off his power, but all in vain. To create an ambience that can spark romance, Ravana enlists Nature — orders clouds to shower flowers, demands a gentle breeze, asks for a full moon rise, which, in turn, torments the love-smitten Ravana. He also shows off to Sita that he is so strong and feared that even the Moon takes orders from him. Rajaneesh unveiled, through his expressive eyes and supple face, the story of a tyrant’s love, lust and power.

The final segment of each day was a Koodiyattam play, which characteristically stages only a small episode from an act.

On the first day Nepathya, Moozhikkulam, presented Mayaseethankam , a tiny episode from the Ramayana where a worried Sita, performed by Indu G, urges Lakshmana (Margi Madhu) to go in search of Rama after hearing his cries while the latter is reluctant to leave her alone in the forest. The Sita-Lakshmana argument is an emotional roller-coaster and both Indu and Madhu expressively brought out their inner turmoil. Sita begins by requesting Lakshmana, then goes on to plead with him, and finally accuse and remonstrate whereas Lakshmana tries to be rational and comforting. The presence of Ravana (Sreehari Chakyar) in the scene, seated on a platform to show he is in his Pushpakavimana, and his delightful interjections made the scene vibrant.

The highlight of the familiar Kalyanasougandhikam Vyayogam play presented by Ammannur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam in Irinjalakuda was the description of the forest or ‘vanavarnana’ by Bheema as he embarks on his journey to fetch Sougandhika flowers for his wife.

Sooraj Nambiar as Bhima skilfully acted out the challenging episode involving an elephant, a python and a lion. It was a treat to watch Sooraj’s body kinetics in his depiction of the elephant in minute detail, followed by the slithering python swallowing its leg, and the lion pouncing on the struggling elephant and ripping apart its face.

The last play of the festival was Soorpanakhankam by Margi, Thiruvananthapuram. The complex personality of Ravana’s sister was convincingly portrayed by Margi Usha who appeared as Lalita, or the demoness disguised as a beautiful woman. She vividly conveyed Soorpanakha’s admiration for Rama, envy at Sita and self-pity at her own fate. Sajeev Narayana Chakyar appeared as the Malayalam-Prakrit-speaking Soorpanakha, and one walks out of the theatre with perhaps a little sympathy for the demoness.

This was the second edition of Natyadharmi Koodiyattam Festival, organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Kutiyattam Kendra.

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