Tale of compassion and redemption

A scene from 'Divyakarunyacharitham.'   | Photo Credit: Special arrangment

In the latter half of the 20th century, several die-hard Kathakali aficionados tried to lend thematic diversity to this dance-drama tradition. Vedic scholar O.M.C. Narayanan Namboodiripad composed ‘Snapakacharitam', overtly inspired by the Bible. In the make-up and costuming of certain characters as well as in the vocal music of the play, there was an easily discernible shift from the stage conventions of Kathakali. Despite the involvement of talented actors and musicians, the play could not create a sustained impact on the Kathakali audience.

Almost a decade later, T.M.B. Nedungadi wrote the Kathakali script of Vallathol's renowned khandakavya, ‘Magdalanamariyam' and presented it a couple of times at different venues. This too did not gain popularity on Kathakali stages.

More recently, Radha Madhavan Alathur, an ardent Kathakali fan, made a bold attempt to retell crucial moments during the last few days in the life of Jesus Christ in the expressional language and stage craft of Kathakali. The play she composed is ‘Divyakarunyacharitam'.

Liberal adaptation

‘“Divyakarunyacharitam' is a liberal adaptation from the Bible. Father Joy Chencheril once suggested that he would be pleased to see a Kathakali play focussing on the glory of ‘Kurbana'. My attempt in the play is to present the most precious moments in the life of Christ, which, I feel, underscores the kurbana element too,” says Radha. Kalamandalam Sajan has choreographed the play without any significant deviations from the conventional techniques.

In five scenes, the story of ‘Divyakarunyacharitam' unfolds. Following the Vandana slokams in praise of Jesus Christ in ragas Kedaragaulam and Mohanam, there is a slokam introducing Pilathos, who is upset by the words and deeds of Christ.

After the ‘thiranokku' King Pilathos is seated along with his wife. He wonders why the queen looks sad. She then tells him of the dream she had the previous night. In her dream, she is told that Christ is innocent and not to be tortured. Hearing this, an enraged Pilathos questions her right to interfere with the affairs of the kingdom.

In the second scene, a messenger arrives and greets the king. The messenger informs the king about instances that reveal the magical prowess of Christ.

The messenger also tells the king of one of Christ's followers who is too greedy to resist temptation. Pilathos is pleased to learn about the wicked man and orders the messenger to bring him without delay.

In the third scene, Judas indulges in self-derision before Pilathos. Pilathos asks about the ‘defiant carpenter-boy' to which Judas replies that he cannot disclose the identity of the man whose disciple he is. Pilathos then tempts Judas by showing him silver coins that dazzle him. Judas agrees to betray his guru and Pilathos gives Judas 30 silver coins through the messenger.

The fourth scene presents the famous ‘Last Supper'. Christ sits surrounded by his disciples. He gives bread and wine to one and all and shares his premonition that he would be disowned by two of them the very next day. In the concluding scene, Christ enters accompanied by his disciples. Pilathos stops his chariot and looks at them. Judas proceeds to kiss Christ. Instantly recognising Christ, Pilathos confronts him. At the command of Pilathos, two soldiers nail Christ on the cross. With serenity and calmness, Christ wears the crown of thorns. On the third day, Christ resurrects and blesses the soldiers.

Textual composition

Radha Madhavan's perseverance was evident in the slokams and the padams of ‘Divyakarunyacharitam'. The Malayalam diction was easily comprehensible to the lay audience. The syntax, more often, was a bit too contrived. Visual images were few and far between. The meter of the lines was sometimes forcibly stretched or contracted to suit to the requirements. After all, Kathakali plays are almost invariably set to a fixed pattern. Radha Madhavan treaded the beaten track.

The choreography of the play was along the conventional lines, except for the make-up and costuming of Judas and Jesus Christ. Several scenes remind us of similar, well-established scenes in other plays such as ‘Uttaraswayamvaram' of Irayimman Thampi. Within the inevitable constraints, Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar neatly portrayed the role of Pilathos with the veera rasa retained throughout, while Peesappilly Rajeev convincingly depicted the dark shades of Judas.

Kalamandalam Ebin Babu presented a realistic picture of Jesus Christ. The figure of Christ is in striking contrast to the sartorial formations in traditional Kathakali.

Kalamandalam Sajan and R.L.V. Pramod as the wife of Pilathos and his messenger respectively did not go overboard.

Vocal music by Kottakkal Madhu and Vengeri Narayanan Namboodiri were the hallmarks of the whole recital. Madhu was at his best in the soul-stirring sequences towards the end of the play. Narayanan followed him with a rare acumen.

Stirring music

A blend of ragas, Carnatic and Hindustani, helped enhance the emotional intensity of the characters and the context. Kalamandalam Nanda Kumar on the chenda and Kalamandalam Aneesh on the maddalam maintained the tempo of the play from beginning till the very end.

The play was staged under the auspices of the Changampuzha Park, Edappally.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 4:56:36 PM |

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