Theatre

The death of a warrior

Rama, Lakshmana, Bali, Sugreeva and Hanuman in a scene from 'Balivadham' Koodiyattam, which was staged in Thiruvananthapuram. Photo: K.K. Gopalakrishnan   | Photo Credit: K.K. Gopalakrishnan



‘Balivadham’ (literally ‘Slaying of Bali’) Koodiyattam is the Kerala-style translation into the histrionic medium of select quatrains and passages in prose from the first act of ‘Abhishekanataka’, one of the famous 13 Sanskrit plays ascribed to Bhasa, the most outstanding among the earliest playwrights in India. Bali, Sugreeva, Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Thara and Angada appear on the stage in a full-scale presentation of the episode.

But, often, on account of constraints of tradition, time and resources, characters other than Bali and Sugreeva are omitted one by one, beginning from the last mentioned.

A recent performance organised by Drisyavedi, co-sponsored by the Kuttiyattam Kendra of the Central Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, provided connoisseurs in the capital city with a rare opportunity of enjoying the brilliance of two contemporary gurus, namely Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar and Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar. Direct disciples of the legendary maestros Ammannur Madhava Chakyar and Painkulam Rama Chakyar, they donned the roles of Bali and Sugreeva respectively in a five-hour-long performance of ‘Balivadham’.

After the so called ‘maravil kriya’ (action facing the mizhavu and behind the curtain) and ‘praavesikam’ (debut or entry resembling ‘thiranokku’ in Kathakali) Sugreeva proceeded with placing himself in the context in question (referred to in Koodiyattam parlance as ‘nirvahanam’ or pre-denouement).

Bali, son of Indra, was the powerful ruler of Kishkindha. His younger step-brother, Sugreeva, was the Sun’s progeny. However, Sugreeva incurred the mistrust and wrath of his elder brother and had to seek shelter on a mountain that was, as a result of a sage’s curse, inaccessible to Bali.

Ushered in by Hanuman, Rama and Lakshmana appear before him in his shelter. This leads to the pledge of allegiance of Rama and Sugreeva. Eventually, with the help of Rama and Lakshmana, Sugreeva is able to vanquish Bali.

Thereafter Sugreeva implements all requests and instructions of Bali and Rama.

Kalamandalam Ramachakyar’s delineation of Sugreeva was, as always, impeccable.

With astonishing dexterity he visualised even the subtlest details of the behaviour of wild animals in response to natural phenomena. The imaginative improvisation embedded in the nirvahanam of Sugreeva, introduced by his preceptor Painkulam Rama Chakyar, blossomed in the contemporary doyen’s acting, with grace and vitality.

Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar presented Bali in all the glory of that tragic hero, pleasantly reminiscent of the acting of his illustrious mentor uncle, Ammannur Madhava Chakyar. None of the prominent traits in the character escaped the thespian’s attention. His appreciation of the enchanting elegance of Thara (meaning, appropriately,‘star’), his affectionate but stern rejection of her affectionate counsel before rushing to wage his final battle, the aura of invincibility he wore throughout, his repeated and adamant refusal of presumptuous Sugreeva’s attempts to pay respects to him prior to the combat … his reproaches to Lord Rama, – all these were delineated picturesquely by the veteran artiste.

The roles of Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Thara were played with commendable amount of involvement and skill by a team of talented artistes from Margi, namely Sajeev Narayana Chakyar, Akhil, Rama Chakyar and Usha respectively.

The scintillating percussion consisting of mizhavu (led by Kalamandalam Ratheesh Bhas, supported by Sajikumar and Mahesh from Margi), thimila (by Margi Mohan) and thalam (by Sindhu and Amritha from Margi) synchronised with the action on the stage.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 3:47:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/review-of-balivadham-koodiyattam/article7765019.ece

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