Reviving Sanghakali

'Sanghakali' staged by Keezhvari Chatharu Sangham at TDM Hall in Kochi, Kerala. Photo:Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Sanghakali, one of the oldest ritual theatrical art forms of Kerala, was on the verge of extinction. However, thanks to the efforts of Kizhivari Chathare Sangham, Thrissur, Sanghakali has got a second lease of life. A staging of Sanghakali in Ernakulam proved its appeal to all members of the audience, young and old alike.

According to renowned scholar Ulloor S. Paramseswara Iyer, Sanghakali (Yathrakali) emerged in the sixth century A.D. Known as an art form of the Namboodiris, Sanghakali must have originated during a period when the Namboodiri community was a predominant community. Political and sociological aspects of that era are also reflected in Sanghakali. Members of certain families formed a group and it was their right to perform Sanghakali in certain areas. There existed several Sanghakali groups in the previous century.

Sanghakali is a comprehensive art form in which 10 vivid segments are integrated. In its heyday, this art form was part of functions such as weddings, Upanayanam (wearing of the sacred thread), and birthday celebrations in Namboodiri families in Kerala.

The first four segments of Sanghakali, consisting of ‘Keli,' ‘Kottichakam Pookal,' ‘Pathram Kottyarkal' and ‘Naalupadham' are purely ritualistic and the rest of the segments, known as ‘Porattu,' are meant to entertain the gathering through humour and satire. ‘Naalupadham' is the recital of hymns and is an annual ritual that is prevalent in certain temples in Kerala. It is believed that ‘Naalupadham' contains the essence of the four Vedas and no one should hear it when it is recited.

Poongattumana Govidan Namboodiri, who is entrusted to carry out the traditional ‘Naalupadham' at the Kodungalur Temple, taught it to his nephew Poongatt Narayanan so that the ritual could be kept alive. Poongatt Narayanan, an alumnus of Chembai Memorial Music College, Palakkad, and a music teacher by profession, learned to recite ‘Naalupadham' and now performs it at the Kodugallur and Kongad temples.

Vanishing act

According to 91-year-old Govindan Namboodiri, Sanghakali in its full form was last performed in the early fifties. As the Namboodiri community lost its predominance, socially and economically, Sanghakali also disappeared from society.

Sankaranarayanan, former Principal of Sree Krishna College, Guruvayoor, who has done extensive research in Sanghakali, decided to revive this old art form. He and Poongatt Narayanan took the initiative to form the Kizhivari Chathare Sangham and for the past 10 years the group has been performing Sanghakali in private and public places in its traditional form.

The Kerala Folklore Academy has accepted Sanghkali as a folk art form and this group is invited regularly to perform during tourist week celeberations in Kerala. The original form of Sanghakali starts at dawn and ends around midnight. But to suit the convenience of present-day spectators, the group presents an abridged form that excludes the ritualistic segments.

According to Narayanan, originally, the ‘porattu' began after a sumptuous lunch, after completing the traditional ritualistic first half in the morning. The recent performance of Sanghkali started with the ritualistic Keli, a percussion ensemble proclaiming the staging of the art form.

The ‘Kottichakam Pookal' was performed by members of the group. They recite hymns in praise of Lord Shiva and their position is behind the ‘Kalam' made with tender coconut leaves. Two of them, costumed in reddish coloured clothes, dance with rhythmic movements. The Vanchipattu the group performed was a string of vanchipattu songs sung in the traditional way.

Interesting characters

Then arrives the ‘Ittikandappan', a masked comic character who insists that prior sanction be taken for everything happening in his locality. ‘Bali Uzhichal,' which comes next, is a humourous presentation of items required for performing black magic. ‘Ayudhameduppu,' the next segment, is a sort of physical exercise in which the various kalari steps are presented.

A string of vivid humorous characters such as Othikkan, Kallukudiyan (drunkard), Viddi (idiot), Muthassi (granny), Pattar (Tamil Brahmin) and Marathengodan also make their appearance. These characters enthral the gathering with their humorous, satirical and brilliant dialogues and movements.

Remarks on contemporary issues like the Mullaperiyar dam, atrocities against women and tension of parents whose children are appearing for examinations, amused the audience and provided food for thought.

An interesting feature of ‘Porattu' is that it can be improvised by incorporating interesting and contemporary issues.

Dignity of labour

The last ‘Porattu' character, Marathengodan, has a special significance. It is the same Ittikandappan who had earlier made his entry but due to the fall in the social and political status, the erstwhile ruler has now been transformed into a fish seller to make ends meet. But he claims he sells ‘purified' fish for the Brahmins. Narayanan, the group leader, says this character indicates the fall in status of the Namboodiri community and also signifies the dignity of labour. Both the jobs were carried out by the same character, with utmost dignity. He adds it is a message for the younger generation.

The Sanghakali group consisted of Dr. Sankaranarayanan, Moothamana Parameswaran Namboodiri, Meledam Krishanan, Poongatt Narayanan, and Cherumittam Prasanth (alumnus of School of Drama, Thrissur).

The percussion was handled by Thrikkur Ashok G. Marar (chenda), Venu Sreekrishnapuram (maddhalam) and Balasubramanian Sreekrishnapuram (elathalam).

Sanghakali ended with ‘Dhanassi', a recital (similar to the mangalam in concerts). This recital of Sanghakali was welcomed by the receptive audience and this augurs well for the art form. The performance was organised under the joint aegis of BEAME and Ernakulam Karayogam.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 2:34:42 PM |

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