Appeasing Balabhadra

Kalamandalam Balasubramanyan as Balabhadra and K.R. Rajeev as Krishna in ‘Subhadraharanam'PHOTO: K. JAWAHARJI   | Photo Credit: K. JAWAHARJI

‘Subhadraharanam,’ the episode where Arjuna, in the garb of an ascetic, steals the heart of Subhadra, Krishna and Balabhadra’s charming sister, marries her with the blessings of Krishna and his father, Indra, and takes her home to Indraprastha, finds expression in several genres in classical literature.

Among the play texts for Kathakali, select scenes of the text referred to as ‘Vadakkan’ (northern) ‘Subhadraharanam’ composed by Manthredathu Nambudiripad of Killikurissimangalam, became popular among artistes as well as the connoisseurs everywhere. And that’s including in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, where an earlier text under the same title penned by Karthika Thirunal, King of erstwhile Travancore, was readily available. Nambudiripad composed the text for a full night performance. However, only three scenes are usually selecting for staging, namely the wedding scene, the one wherein Brahmins gossip about Subhadra’s elopement and the scene in which Balarama explodes in anger upon hearing that Arjuna has whisked his sister away.

In a recent performance of the play in Thiruvananthapuram, only the last mentioned scene was enacted. Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanyan donned the role of Balabhadra. Balabhadra’s wrath knows no bounds. He appeared the embodiment of fury capable of destroying the whole world with his hoe.

Like a lion intent on smashing the forehead of a tusker, he advances shouting: “Where is he, the arch enemy-cum-groom, the son of Indra? I will destroy him in no time.”

Krishna falls at his feet and implores him to restrain his anger and refrain from reckless action. But all attempts at appeasement prove futile until Krishna reminds Balabhadra that annihilating or even inflicting injury upon Arjuna would only hurt their sister. Balabhadra finally sees reason and proceeds to Indraprastha to fete the newlyweds.

An extra-long quatrain, ‘dandaka’, that the playwright has written at this point narrates how both Balabhadra and Krishna come to understand the extent of Arjuna’s humanness and unparalleled skill in archery. In Kerala Kalamandalam, at this point in the narrative, a dance interlude, ‘iratta ashtakalasam’ (punctuating dance of eight parts) came into vogue under the leadership of Padmanabhan Nair Asan, wherein Balabhadra alternates specific steps with Krishna expressing the exuberance of their delight in seeing their brother-in-law’s expertise in wielding the bow and arrows.

Balasubrahmanyan presented this dance of exhilaration elevating the rasikas minds to an exceptionally high level of aesthetic pleasure and appropriately leading his co-actor K.R. Rajeev, who essayed Krishna. The duo was duly accompanied by Kalamandalam Krishnadas on the chenda and Margi Raveendran on the maddalam. Balasubrahmanyan’s delineation of Balabhadra left nothing to be desired. Among the various aspects of acting, namely saathvika (emotional), aamgika (gestural), aahaarya (make-up and costume) and manodharma (imaginative acting, including improvisation), it proved difficult to judge which was his forte.

The scene in question required only few quatrains and padams to be sung. Senior vocalist Kottakkal Narayanan, ably assisted by Vengeri Narayanan, rendered them into pleasing music with pristine clarity in strict adherence to convention. The staging was organised by Drisyavedi.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 9:49:49 PM |

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