Nepathya’s 12th Koodiyattam Festival held recently in Moozhikkulam, Ernakulam, where the performances lasted more than five hours on many nights, bore witness to many mesmerising scenes. Two plays — Neelakanta Kavi’s Kalyanasougandhikam Vyayogam , a one-act play over six days, and Jatayuvadham , the fourth Act of Sakthibhadran’s Ascharyachoodamani — were presented in full over eight days.
On the inaugural day of the festival, Indu G presented Geetagovindam Nangiarkoothu, which narrates the story of Krishna and Radha. Whether it was describing a male and a female bee drinking nectar from the same flower or Krishna cavorting with the Gopis, Indu masterfully conveyed all shades of sringara.
The first Koodiyattam play of the festival was Kalyanasougandhikam , which describes Bheema’s quest for the Sougandhikam flower during which he meets his elder brother Hanuman.
Nepathya Sreehari Chakyar set the tone for the aesthetic and artistic standard that was evident throughout the festival when he appeared as Bheema in purappad (prologue) on the first day. After setting out the context for the story, he described in great detail Bheema’s journey in search of the Sougandhika flower. Sreehari displayed controlled athleticism, conveying the gigantic proportions of the Gandhamadana Mountain. He then went on to describe in detail the valleys, plateaux and peaks.
What followed was a brisk graphic portrait. Sreehari described Bheema clearing the way by felling trees with his mace, animals taking flight on hearing the sound of his conch and rivers flooding after clouds burst into rains after they hit Bheema’s chest. Sreehari’s Bheema suggested he was enjoying the freedom from the ascetic life, almost spoiling for a fight and, at the same time, eager to please his wife.
Nepathya’s director and guru Margi Madhu appeared as Bheema on the third day. Alternating between the roles of Panchali and Bheema, Madhu’s expressive face brought out the various nuances of sringara as he described Panchali finding the flower and taking a fancy to it, and Bheema promising to bring it to her. But his best was yet to come. ‘Ajagarakabalitam’ is an attam used to describe a forest — it vividly depicts an elephant caught between a python snapping at its leg and a lion pouncing on its forehead. Alternately playing the three animals, Madhu’s act captured the traits of each animal in a masterful display of body language as well as aesthetics of abhinaya.
A seven-hour-long Day 6 brought down the curtains on Kalyanasougandhikam . Nepathya Yadukrishnan as Hanuman was a good match for Margi Madhu’s Bheema in their confrontation and then in their reconciliation on learning they are brothers. With his sensitive abhinaya, Yadukrishnan was outstanding as the devotional servant of Lord Rama, lamenting that a life away from his beloved lord is not worth living.
Nepathya Rahul Chakyar as Kalyanaka was at his best in detailing to Bheema the story of Arjuna and Urvashi in Heaven. With the flick of an eye, a raised eyebrow, pliant cheeks and a vivacious smile, he painted a picture of Urvashi decking up and expectantly going to Arjuna’s bed chambers, taking Arjuna by surprise, followed by the resultant rejection and embarrassment.
The second play performed over eight days was Jatayuvadham, which began with Ravana hearing about his sister, Soorpanakha, being maimed by Rama and Lakshmana. He travels to Rama’s hermitage and is besotted with Sita’s exquisite beauty. As the act ends, Ravana flies back to Lanka with a captive Sita, having killed Jatayu who tried to stop him.
Nepathya Rahul Chakyar, on the second day of nirvahanam of Mayaraman, or Ravana disguised as Rama, presented the scenes of Kailasodharanam and Parvathiviraham with a difference.
To signify that this act takes place in a flying chariot, the lifting of Mount Kailasa — a scene which needs a lot of effort and can be mastered only with rigorous training — was performed with the artist standing on a stool. For well over an hour, Rahul made the two-feet-diameter stool his stage, jumping, pirouetting and leaning backward, Ravana seemed magnified in Rahul’s controlled balancing act.
On Day 3 of nirvahanam, the boastful Mayaraman of the second day makes way for an outwardly calm and pensive character who is nevertheless tormented by Sita’s beauty. In a three-hour solo act sitting on the stool and with his gaze ripe with desire, Margi Madhu as Mayaraman describes Sita’s beauty in meticulous detail.
And then came the famous sloka Panadroopam where Mayaraman, sitting with arms crossed, drinks in the beauty of Sita with just his eyes and lips. A riveting performance of telling stories just with the eyes, with no nritta and no mudra.
The last day of nirvahanam was done by Nepathya Yadukrishnan who acted in turn as Sita, Lakshmana and Ravana. Switching roles with ease, Yadukrishnan acted out Sita’s accusations, Lakshmana protesting and pleading with her, and Ravana standing by enjoying the arguments, waiting to walk away with Sita.
On the last day, Mayaraman sheds his disguise and the mighty Ravana in kathi vesham appears on stage. Margi Madhu represented Ravana at his imperious best, telling Sita that there is no point crying and that no one in the three worlds would even dream of rescuing her so long as they have to contend with him. To show why he is the most powerful on earth, he displays the scars from winning a battle with the diggajas, the eight elephants that hold up the world.
Madhu’s depiction of Ravana’s struggle with the elephants was a delight. Jatayu’s entry on a special platform on the stage, accompanied by lamps, was impressive. Senior artist and guru Margi Sajeev Narayana Chakyar presented a majestic Jatayu. His gravitas befitted the divine bird who comes to save Sita, who is killed in deceit by Ravana. Indu G, who appeared as Sita, had a strong constant presence on the stage despite having only a few lines of dialogue. Standing away from Ravana and his charioteer, she grieved as she silently watched the battle.
The percussion team, which did a commendable job, was led by Kalamandalam Manikantan, Nepathya Jinesh, Kalamandalam Sivaprasad and Nepathya Ashwin on the mizhavu, and Kalanilayam Rajan and Moorkanadu Dinesan on the idakka.
Just as in reading a book, there are times when one wished the editor had been a little more stringent. For example, Koodiyattam has a segment called Panchangam and Kamasaram where the actor describes the hair, face, eyes, breasts and feet of a woman, showing how he is tormented by lust and love, a gentle breeze fuelling his passion. But repeating this several times in an evening — as Ravana described Sita in Jatayuvadham — can be a little tedious.
The 15-day Nepathya Festival was supported by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The European Research Council.