Santanagopalam Kathakali: Test of piety

Sreekumar and Kalamandalam Kesavan NamboodiriSanthanagopalam Kathakali, which was staged in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K

The intense, self-effacing devotion to Vishnu associated with the play Santhanagopalam, penned by Mandavappalli Ittiraricha Menon (1747 -94) is on par with that of Krishnattam performance at Guruvayoor Sree Krishna Temple. In temples dedicated to Lord Krishna at Panavalli near Alappuzha, Kollam Asramam and Thiruvalla, Santhanagopalam is staged as an offering. At Thiruvalla temple, a full-night performance of Kathakali usually concludes with the performance of the final scene of this play so as to ensure immortality through the deity’s blessing in the form of wealth of children.

The late thespian Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair used to don the role of the Brahmin in Santhanagopalam as an offering, without taking any honorarium. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple and Janardanaswamy Temple in Varkala, both in Thiruvananthapuram district, used to stage Santhanagopalam in full as was the convention in certain other venues as well, prior to Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair capturing the stage with his captivating presentation of the plight of the Brahmin. At the Padmanabhaswamy temple, Santhanagopalam is slated invariably for presentation on the final day of the festival in March/April.

The episode has acquired the status of a convention-bound play, as attested by Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair Asan including it among the 17 plays for which he wrote elaborate performance manuals. The play provides many opportunities to showcase the histrionic skill and dexterity of actors interacting and employing context-sensitive and imaginative interpolations in emotionally surcharged situations. Connoisseurs in the capital enjoyed the appropriately abridged recital of the play featuring just seven of the 12 scenes.

Santhanagopalam Kathakali play is adapted from Bhagavata Purana. Obviously, the original story aims at illustrating that Vishnu, especially in his incarnation as Krishna, is the greatest deity. Mythologically Arjuna and Krishna are considered two sages called Nara and Narayana who are ideally inseparable, but when separated the former becomes unbelievably weak.

In a recent performance in Thiruvananthapuram, the roles of Krishna, Arjuna and the Brahmin were essayed by KR Rajeev, Kalamandalam Sreekumar and Kalamandalam Kesavan Namboodiri, respectively.

After the great battle at Kurukshetra, Arjuna, who visits Krishna readily accepts the latter’s invitation to stay with him for some time. A pious Brahmin enters the the royal assembly with the dead body of his child and accuses Krishna of neglecting his duties of looking after his subjects. Watching Krishna’s indifferent attitude to the Brahmin’s plight, Arjuna offers to protect the Brahmin’s next child. Arjuna vows to immolate himself if he failed in protecting the child.

Kesavan Namboodiri, Sreekumar and Rajeev vied with each other in making their respective roles full of life. The roles of the Brahmin’s wife and that of the midwife were essayed confidently by Margi Sukumaran and Margi Suresh, respectively.

Kottakkal Madhu, ably assisted by Kalamandalam Vinod, rendered the play text into mellifluous music. Kalanilayam Krishnakumar was on the chenda and Margi Raveendran and Sadanam Krishnaprasad on the maddalam. The programme was held under the aegis of Drisyavedi.

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 1:40:46 AM |

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