Aparna Nangiar re-creates ‘Dasamam’ Koothu

Aparna Nangiar at the performance

Aparna Nangiar at the performance   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Aparna Nangiar recently presented ‘Dasamam’ Koothu that deals with the life of Krishna, from birth to swarga arohana

Just as other classical performing art forms were revived in the 1800s and 1900s, Nangiar Koothu, a solo Sanskrit theatre art form presented by women of the Nangiar community in certain temples in Kerala, was given impetus with the discovery of an old acting manual (attaprakaram) of Sri Krishna Charitham in 1982 by artists-researchers Nirmala Paniker and G. Venu, which deals with women’s roles in Kutiyattam. It was given to Ammanur Madhava Chakyar, who re-worked the attaprakara detailing the dramatic performance. Until then the performance of Nangiar Koothu had a perfunctory existence in temple rituals while the training institutions such as Ammanur Chachu Chakyar Kalari and Kerala Kalamandalam that were strong in Kutiyattam, had either no women or offered limited scope despite Painkulam Rama Chakyar’s support.

This triggered a new generation of artistes — Usha Nangiar, Margi Sathi, Kalamandalam Girija, Shylaja and others. Alongside, new poetic works were introduced to enrich the repertoire. The young, talented Dr. Aparna Nangiar, re-created ‘Dasamam’ Koothu and wrote the attaprakaram for its staging. Dr. Aprana is the grandniece and disciple of Madhava Chakyar and of her father Ammanur Parameswaran (Kuttan) Chakyar and of Usha Nangiar. ‘Dasamam’ Koothu has been mentioned in the vaidika granthas in the context of cremation rituals of an Akkithiripad (one who performs yagas), and is believed to have been performed last, 150 years ago. 'Dasamam' koothu is based on the tenth canto of Srimad Bhagavatham that deals with the life of Krishna, from birth to the swarga arohana.

For the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Trivandrum Chapter, Dr. Aparna presented one part of a story — Santhanagopalan, about a poor, devout Brahmin, who loses nine children one after another. The enactment begins when the ninth baby dies, and the Brahmin places the baby before Krishna and reminds him of how he brought his guru Sandeepani’s son back to life, begging for a similar miracle. Arjuna is struck by Krishna’s indifference and vows to protect his next child.

Nangiar Koothu, except during the entry rituals (Purappad) in which there is nritta, is abhinaya centric — netra and hasta, expressions through the eyes and gestures, specifically. The dancer sits on a stool just behind an oil lamp that lights up her face. Traditionally, Nangiar Koothu is a flashback enactment in a drama for which the dancer cannot recite the slokas, but the rules do not apply for new enactments that are not a part of a nataka. Dr. Aparna recited and presented two verses in one and a half hours. Without distractions of music or movement, only storytelling to the accompaniment of percussion (mizhavu) and talam, there was a sense of quietude. The actor, without getting up from the stool, switched roles with a small inflection of the body, from narrator to Brahmin to Krishna to Brahmin to Arjuna and back. Detailing is key in this acting style. The gestural language is complicated and I had the guidance of experts Dr. Prabodhachandran Nayar and K.P. Sukumaran, but the expressions were self-explanatory.

Snapshots of the pitiable Brahmin crying over his new-born, of his despair, of his anger when Krishna looks the other way, of Arjuna’s compassion and arrogance, showcased the artiste’s miming ability. However her timing and sequence of expressions were even better, such as when the Brahmin is awaiting his child’s birth, watching eagerly for a sign, a sudden shock followed by sorrow when he just falls to the ground crying helplessly. These were just quiet expressions backed by sensitive percussion by Kalamandalam Narayanan Nambiar and Kalamandalam Rajeev (mizhavu), Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan (idakka) and Saritha Krishnakumar (cymbals).

In another instance, when the Brahmin is in Krishna’s presence, a sequence is again enacted — the Brahmin turning towards Krishna, awaiting his response, followed by a slow growing anger and ending in sorrowful crying. She repeated this sequence twice, taking time in between to be fresh. This sequence, according to Dr. Aparna is a technique called bhavatrayam. Such indigenously-grown acting techniques underline our rich cultural heritage.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 7:21:26 AM |

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