Theatre

In the light of tradition

A scene from 'Balivadham.' Photo: K.K.Gopalakrishnan   | Photo Credit: K.K. GOPALAKRISHNAN

A five-day Koodiyattam festival at Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram, recently, provided connoisseurs and the inquisitive pleasant glimpses into certain aspects of Koodiyattam, arguably the most ancient and exacting of our classical theatre art forms.

For instance, while dispersing after watching the ritualistic conclusion, namely the ‘mutiyakkittha,' of the play ‘Antakavadham' (The Slaying of the Slayer), a young techie sought a clarification, as to whether the ritual is called so because the actor's ‘muti' (hair) is exposed to the audience as he prostrates before the lamp. I explained to him thus: “No. It's actually a wonderful confluence of Malayalam and Sanskrit. Like Kathakali, which conjoins the Sanskrit katha (‘story') and the Malayalam kali (‘play'), ‘mutiyakkittha' is an assimilation of muti, the old Malayalam verbal form meaning ‘to conclude,' and akkittha, the duly Malayalamised Sanskrit expression for agnistava – obeisance to fire.”

Opening item

The festival commenced with the Omkaara of the conch, followed by a tasteful ensemble of two mizhavu, a timila, an edakka and a set of kuzhitaalam.

The scintillating counts (ennangal) on the mizhavu played by Margi Unnikrishnan Nambiar were returned with equal agility by Margi Mohanan on the thimila and by Margi Unnikrishnan on the edakka. This set the atmosphere for the ‘Chaakshusha yajna' as Koodiyattam is known in Natyasastra.

The opening item was the one-act play ‘Mattavilaasam' (The Dalliance of the Intoxicated) written by Mahendra Vikrama Pallava (seventh century AD) – a play that is not quite common on the Koodiyattam stage. It was presented by Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, who brought out multiple levels of the character's mind in tune with the performance manual (the manual was completed and perfected by octogenarian mizhavu maestro P.K. Narayanan Nambiar). The presentation, however, did not rise to the usual level of impeccability one associates with Margi.

Pothiyil Narayana Chakyar and Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar histrionically interpreted two different dramatic situations in the formidable Ravana's life, in Bhasa's ‘Abhishekanaatakam.' Narayana Chakyar first depicted the King of Lanka's anger on learning about the destruction of his favourite Asoka garden by a strange ‘monkey,' and then his contemplation on the misfortunes that destiny appears to have kept in store for him.

Kuttan Chakyar, meanwhile, emoted Ravana at his mightiest and most confident, especially his encounter with the majestic Mount Kailas that obstructed the path of his flying chariot. After objectively assessing his opponent's (the mountain's) strength, Ravana single-handedly uproots it and tosses it aside, inadvertently triggering off the reunion of Lord Siva with his estranged consort Parvati (who is at odds with her husband for hiding the ‘other woman'– Ganga – in his hair).

Surpanakha in Saktibhadra's ‘Ascharyachoodamani,' essayed by Paimkulam Narayana Chakyar, entertained the audience with her exotic make-up and costume, her steps revealing tribal dance-like rhythmic patterns. Her speech was in highly stylised old Malayalam. However, Surpanakha's self-introduction in Malayalam Prakrit, which brims with potential for audience appeal, was sadly left out for no obvious reason.

Margi Madhu with his versatile acting transformed the first part of ‘Balivadham' into an unforgettable rendering of the life of Sugriva, whose mind wavers in anxiety about the future.

Kalamandalam Girija presented a perfect Nangiarkoothu on the story of King Yayati's unfortunate daughter Madhavi who becomes a pawn for the men in her life. It depicted Madhavi's prolonged struggle for salvation. The role of the accompanists in raising the act to a sublime level of aesthetic enjoyment was established, beyond any doubt, by Girija's associates.

Innovative contribution

Guru P.K. Narayanan Nambiar's innovative contribution to Koodiyattam repertoire titled ‘Antakavadham,' presented by the team of artistes trained under his guidance, appears to have a long way to go before it will be applauded in all enthusiasm by rasikas. Throughout the performance, the young kurumkuzhal artiste strove in all sincerity to introduce the taste of some popular ragas like Natta in Carnatic music, but it struck a discordant note to the prominently rhythmic percussion common on the Koodiyattam stage.

Then again doyen Narayanan Nambiar effortlessly and unquestionably upheld the distinctive position of the genre known as Paathakam, with the multifaceted splendour of his spoken word and his minimal acting in tune with the age-old axioms on the subject.

As against Chakyarkoothu, the Paathakam stands out on account of its all embracive soothing effect, avoiding with meticulous care all aspects of extravaganza in humour, forceful use of spoken word and scathing social criticism.

The fete was held under the aegis of the Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi's Kutiyattam Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 10:29:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/In-the-light-of-tradition/article14941740.ece

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