Theatre

A platform for Thullal

Sneha Sasikumar performs Ramanucharitam or Garudagarvabhangam as part of a three-day fete devoted to Thullal in Edappally   | Photo Credit: E. Padmakumar

Thullal, conceived and composed by the inimitable wordsmith Kalakkath Kunchan Nambiar in the 18th century, is a solo dance and theatre narrative. Of the three forms of Thullal, Seethankan, Ottan and Parayan, the maiden performance of Kalyanasaugandhikam, is believed to have been choreographed as Seethankan.

In the last century, Malabar Raman Nair refined the performance structure of Thullal by incorporating elements of classicism in the four-fold concept of acting; angika, vachika, aharya and satwika. Since then, the sophisticated style evolved by him became the mainstay of Thullal. In course of time, Ottan, with its green facial make-up, gold-coloured ornaments and semi-circular head-gear, gained prominence over the other two. Even Ottanthullal is being marginalised by the onslaught of time. It is against this background that a three-day festival of Thullal was held in Edappally recently. The festival was an attempt to capture the essence of Thullal in its visual, rhythmic and musical diversity.

The fete began with the presentation of the refreshing story of Ramanucharitam or Garudagarvabhangam (trouncing of Garuda’s pride) by Sneha Sasikumar. Vivid expressions and an enviable ebullience were the hallmarks of her recital. She could spontaneously portray multiple characters such as Lord Krishna, Garuda, Hanuman, Rukmini and Satyabhama. Sneha could make the audience feel the heated exchange of words between the egoistic Garuda and the obstinate Hanuman. Her stylised execution of hand gestures and realistic expressions turned out to be a curious mixture now and then. Yet she could ensure sound communication with her audience.

Impressive narrative

On the following day, Arun R. Kumar performed Seethankan Thullal. He chose the all-too familiar text of Kalyanasaugandhikam. The audience seemed to be impressed by the portion depicting the encounter between the mighty Bhimasena and his invincible brother Hanuman at Kadaleevanam. At times, he revelled in unwarranted lokadharmi (realism), especially in the characterisation of Hanuman.

Arun R. Kumar’s Seethankan Thullal narrated the story of Kalyanasaugandhikam

Arun R. Kumar’s Seethankan Thullal narrated the story of Kalyanasaugandhikam   | Photo Credit: E. Padmakumar

The text of Saugandhikam is rich with vibrant imagery and hence its visualisation is a privilege even for a professional artiste. Arun fully employed his histrionic and rhythmic prowess to identify with the arrogant Bhima and the affectionate Hanuman. The ornaments made of tender coconut-leaves swaying in tune with the movements of the hands and the head were a delight to watch.

Parayan Thullal was staged as the finale of the three-day fete. Kalamandalam Prabhakaran was the one who revived this genre from obscurity more than a decade ago. His disciple Ranjith Tripunithura delved into the story of Pulindimoksham. Pulindi and her husband, a hunter, belong to an aboriginal tribe. The hunter gets a Sivalingam from the forest and on his way back home comes across King Simhakethu, who advises him to do daily pooja to the Lord with ash from the cremation ground and flowers. The hunter and his wife do the poojas as directed.

Philosophical core

One day, the hunter could not get any ash as there was no cremation on that day. His wife, Pulindi, then suggests that their hut along with her body be burnt and the ashes offered to the deity. The hunter is reluctant for such a sacrifice. Pulindi then enters into a discourse with her husband on the futility of materialism and the nitty-gritty of spiritualism. Finally she immolates herself in the fire. The hunter uses the ashes for the pooja and, as usual, beckons his wife without realising that she was no more. To his surprise, Pulindi appears before him as she is saved by Lord Siva. The couple devotes the rest of their life to worshipping the Lord.

Ranjith Tripunithura’s Parayan Thullal delved into the story of Pulindimoksham.

Ranjith Tripunithura’s Parayan Thullal delved into the story of Pulindimoksham.   | Photo Credit: E. Padmakumar

The text of Pulindimoksham is a demanding one. Nonetheless Ranjith presented it convincingly. Devoid of humour and sarcasm, Pulindimoksham does not have the luminosity of Nambiar’s other well-versed compositions. It is not easy for the lay audience to digest its philosophical disposition. There is also an obvious dearth of dance in it. Bhakti is the dominant mood and the pattern of singing can be quite uninspiring. The aharya is distinctive with the head-gear shaped like a hooded-serpent and the holy ash smeared on the forehead of the actor.

Kalamandalam Prabhakaran and Kiran Prabhakaran provided the background music on all the three days. By and large, the fete was a gratifying experience for the audience.

The fete was organised by Changampuzha Samskarika Kendram, Edappally.


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 1:50:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/a-three-day-fete-devoted-to-thullal/article19507831.ece

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