Theatre

Subtle and aesthetic

Margi Rama Chakyar as Dhananjaya (left) and Margi Sajeev Narayana Chakyar as Kaundinya in 'Subhadradhanamjayam' Photo: Jawaharji K.   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.



The two Sanskrit plays, ‘Tapatiisamvarana’ and ‘Subhadradhananjayam’ were composed by the Chera King Kulasekhara of the 10th century for staging as per his views on the subject. Knowledgeable in histrionics, the king himself donned the roles of all important characters and saw that each action on the stage was carefully choreographed in the light of the comments offered by an expert evaluator of performance. As a result, presentation of both plays came to be standardised and popular on the Koodiyattam stage, bringing out the multi-splendored dimensions of the aesthetic possibilities emanating directly or by way of suggestion from all crucial parts of the play text.

Kulasekhara narrated the famous episode of Arjuna’s abduction of Subhadra in five acts. Traditionally the performance time of the first act alone used to be about 44 hours, spread over 11 nights after dinner. To suit the taste and convenience of the present-day audience, the duration of each performance is customarily shortened considerably. But a recent performance organised in the capital by Margi and sponsored by the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi lasted for four hours. Although the artistes as well as majority of the rasikas appeared exhausted in about two hours time, it was indeed an enjoyable treat served rarely, with laudable attention focussed on almost all subtle nuances.

The portions enacted included, in general, those used to be staged on the 4th, 9th and 10th nights in traditional venues.

Kaundinya is the Brahmin friend-cum-court jester of the hero, Dhananjaya, of the play ‘Subhadradhananjayam’ (latter is an epithet of Arjuna, but is suggestive of his winning the wealth, namely Subhadra).

After the obligatory rituals prefixed to every performance of Koodiyattam, Kaundinya appeared in the typical Vidushaka make-up. Gluttonous and obese, he was obviously dead tired of continuous starving and travelling. He bemoans his ill fate that prompted him to accompany the hero on his penance-cum-pilgrimage, leaving all the luxuries and comforts of the palace. Now he has to run about, without food and drinking water.

Under the scorching sun, he dashes eagerly towards a mirage at a distance. Meanwhile, Dhananjaya, who noticed that Kaundinya could not keep pace with him was waiting for him under a fig tree. Attempting to dissuade the poor Brahmin from his futile venture, Dhananjaya calls out to him ‘sakhe!’(friend). But Kaundinya mistakes it first as the sound of waves in the lake, subsequently as the frogs’ croak and finally as an alarm call of a frog to its companion, as frogs are afraid of him, since, as a boy he was notorious for piercing the eyes of frogs in temple ponds with sharpened coconut leaf splinters.

When Dhananjaya repeats his call, Kaundinya recognises it as the hero’s signal to him indicating displeasure. On being enlightened by Dhananjaya that what Kaundinya mistook as water was nothing but a mirage known in Sanskrit as mrigathrishna (animal’s avarice), the clever peddler of words retorts that it was, in fact, a Brahmanathrishna.

At this juncture he encounters an untimely cloud holding a screaming lustrous object traversing the sky. Noticing that it is a distress call of a damsel caught by a demon, Dhananjaya orders him to leave her alone lest he should be burnt by fiery arrows and readies himself to shoot a powerful dart. Kaundinya closely imitates the hero’s actions and utterances and notes that being quickly released by the demon, the damsel is descending on the ground. He immediately earmarks most areas as his own so that she will duly belong to him, if she happens to fall in those areas. But Dhananjaya holds the falling girl in his hands and puts her safely on her feet.

Margi Sajeev Narayana Chakyar’s presentation of Kaundinya was impeccable. It showcased all the salient features of the Vidushaka, representing the final and decadent period of the character on the Koodiyattam stage. Evident at every point were his all embracive mastery of the spoken word (vaakk), ability to bring to light most effectively the sentiment befitting the context by pressing into service the subtlest aspect of postures and bodily movements, especially, facial expressions and hand gestures.

Margi Rama Chakyar and Margi Visishta essayed the roles of Dhananjaya and Subhadra respectively. The picturesque description of the fig tree by the former, the delineation of the alighting of the heroine in front of the hero by the latter and simultaneous presentation of their blissfully watching the sensuous aspects of the features of the other, proved graceful.

The orchestra handled by the Margi team consisting of Sajikumar and Mahesh on the mizhavu, Mohan on the thimila and Sindhu and Amrita on the cymbals embellished the performance.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 7:56:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/subhadradhananjayam-koodiyattam-in-the-capital-city/article8304674.ece

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