Koodiyattom, the world’s oldest Sanskrit theatre tradition, calls for acting techniques in accordance with the tenets of Natya Shastra and dialogues full of satire that need to be delivered with punch. Only an accomplished artiste who is a versatile actor and an effective orator too can fit into the slot of a Koodiyattom artiste, a skill which tends to be more challenging when compared to other classical art forms.
‘Subhadradhananjayam’, a play written by Kulasekhara Varma, was staged at the Koodalmanikyam temple as part of its annual Koodiyattom festival this year. Incidentally, this is the tenth year of the festival and it was 10 years ago that the play was last staged at the venue. Only the first act of the play, which extends to 11 days, is usually performed nowadays – for obvious reasons.
The first act narrates the story of Arjuna’s accidental meeting with Subhadra while on a pilgrimage. But almost throughout the act, the spotlight is on the Vidhushaka (the court jester), Koundinya, who is Arjuna’s companion. After the customary Purappad on the first day, the Nirvahanam was performed on the second day, where Arjuna narrates the flashback to the story. Up-and-coming artiste Ammanur Madhav showed glimpses of promise during these days enacting the role of Arjuna.
The third day comprised a detailed evaluation and explanation by Arjuna of the environs around the hermitage that he comes across in his pilgrimage. The association and friendship between different animals who are born enemies but seem to cohabit peacefully was beautifully enacted with eye movements and facial expressions by Ammannur Rajaneesh, another up-and-coming artiste.
From the fourth day onwards up to the ninth day, the Vidhushaka takes centre-stage. Here, the Vidhushaka makes a thorough critical analysis of the socio-political milieu, its degeneration, its impact on the society and solutions to overcome the damage, by narrating the story of a village and its members. He weaves his tale by dissecting different classes of the society and pin points the negatives with apt examples that are of significance even in the present day social and political milieu.
The Vidhushaka’s suggestions to achieve the four pillars of dharma – purushaaartha, dharmaartha, kaama, and moksha (duty, wealth, desire, and salvation) – is indeed thought-provoking. He explains these with humorous dialogues, quotations and verses in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Manipravalam. Seasoned artiste Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar handled the role of the Vidhushaka with élan.
On the first nine days, there is only a single actor on the stage. The actual Koodiyattom starts only on the tenth day. Arjuna’s accidental meeting with Subhadra, the detailed explanation of Arjuna’s beauty by Subhadra and vice versa, and Arjuna and Koundinya’s journey in search of Subhadra constitute the last three days of the performance.
Margi Raman Chakyar (Arjuna) beautifully detailed how Subhadra was being made up by her maids. Aparna Nangiar and Nithya Nangiar handled the role of Subhadra on different days.
Kalamandalam Narayanan Nambiar, Edanad Chandran Nambiar and Kalamandalam Sivadas accompanied on the mizhavu. Indira Nangiar and Devi Nangiar handled the tala and Kalamandalam Satheesan was in charge of chutti.