Of Love and duty - The Bhima-Hidumbi story

‘Bakavadham’ was the first of the four classic Kathakali plays authored by Kottayam Thampuran, the iconic poet-composer. In narrating the tribulations of the Pandavas from the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata, the story spans their escape from the burning palace of wax at Varanavata to the slaying of the demon Bakasura by Bhima.

An excerpt from ‘Bakavadham’ was staged under the auspices of Uthareeyam, as the second performance in a series titled ‘Pandavayanam’.

The episode began with the meeting of Hidumbi (Kalamandalam Arun Warrier) and Bhima (Kalamandalam Neeraj). Bhima keeps watch over his mother and brothers as they sleep in the forest of Hidumbavana after fleeing Varanavata. Hidumbi, sister of Hidumba the rakshasa and chieftain of the forest, has been instructed to kill them. Instead, she is smitten by love for Bhima. An alapana in Yadhukulakhambodi marked the entry of Hidumbi and her varying emotions on seeing Bhima. Assuming the form of a beautiful woman, she approaches him and declares her love and desire to become his wife.

Tall and lissome with a gentle countenance, Arun Warrier proved an excellent choice for the role.

Viewed in the context of the limited focus on most sthree veshams, this episode stood out as an exception in terms of the importance given to the female persona. In portraying Hidumbi, the sthayi bhava was sringara, with details such as her brother’s cruel nature being encompassed in sanchari bhava. The ‘sari nrutham’ wherein the sthree holds the edges of the veil and executes a series of intricate steps, was a major segment that segued into a padam. Here, the artist was a picture of lithe grace. The leisurely exploration of the main padinja padam ‘Mara Sadrusha’ (Yadhukula khambodi) by the vocalists paved the way for an absorbing interface between the protagonists.

In keeping with tradition, the maddalam was the only percussive accompaniment to vocals when sthree vesham was being performed — a noteworthy point. Chenda joined in during the male protagonist’s enactment.

When Hidumbi enquires about the Pandavas’ identity and place of origin, Bhima’s body language and averted gaze reflect remembered anger at the Kauravas’ murderous intentions — significant testimonies to the depth of characterisation. Bhima politely but firmly informs Hidumbi that he cannot supersede Yuddhisthira, his eldest brother, who is not yet married. Just then, Veda Vyasa (Kalamandalam Athul) appears. Bhima recounts the details of Duryodhana’s evil conspiracy and the Pandavas’ escape, guided by Vidura’s counsel. Vyasa infuses hope and advises Bhima to wed Hidumbi and beget a son. The brief ilakiyattam by Neeraj which followed, effectively showcased mudras and abhinaya, accompanied only by percussion, sans vocals.

The romantic dialogue between Bhima and Hidumbi was pictured through beautifully rendered padams in Thodi, Neelambari and Padi. Bhima’s sringara was tempered by veeram (dheerodhata). Extolling Hidumbi’s feminine attributes, poetic imagery abounds as evidenced by the likening of her eyebrows to Kama’s bow- string made of buzzing bees.

It was a dynamic Ghatotkacha (Kalamandalam Sriram) who emerged from behind the thira, his vigorous cries announcing rakshasa strength even before his entry. He seeks Bhima’s blessings with the assurance that he will appear before him whenever summoned by his thoughts. Sriram’s brisk movements brought great energy to the vattom vechu kalaasam and soochi kalaasam, the latter rarely seen on stage.

The characterisation was apt, careful to avoid undue exaggeration. Again, the controlled display of emotion by Bhima and Hidumbi during their leave-taking was handled with finesse.

Among the outstanding elements of the performance was the accompanying music. Vocalists Kalamandalam Vinod and Sudheesh were in their element, unfurling rakthi prayogas and delicate nuances in ragas Yadukulakamboji, Dhanyasi, Bilahari, Todi and Madhyamavathi. Several sancharas stood out for sheer luminosity, communicating the swanubhava that stems from complete immersion in sangita and sahitya.

Percussion by Kalamandalam Venumohan (chenda) and Kalamandalam Vysakh (maddalam) was of a high order. Chutti by Kalamandalam Satheesan and costuming by Kottakal Kunjiraman, Narayanan and Kunjan contributed to the splendid visuals.

Clarification: Incidentally, the article on the 17th anniversary celebration of Sheikh Chinna Moulana Trust was also written by the same author. The byline was inadvertently got missed out.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 3:49:41 PM |

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