'Single anklet' once again chimes on Kathakali stage
Thrissur, December 30, 2015
The story of Kannaki, who threw down one of her anklets before the Pandya king to prove innocence of her husband, unjustly accused of theft of the queen's anklet and killed on the King's orders, destroying the kingdom in her rage, was once again staged on the Kathakali stage here after a gap of several decades.
Kathakali, the famous classical dance drama theatre usually features a set of stories from the Mahabharata and other texts about divine characters and their valorous deeds.
There have been, time and again, exceptions to the rule. One such is the adaptation of “Chilappathikaram,” one of the five great epics of Tamil literature, authored by Ilango Adigal in the Sangam period (second-third centuries AD).
It depicts the deep love between Kannaki and Kovilan, a rich man of Kaveri Poompattinam.
Madhavi, a beautiful dancer, comes between them, divesting Kovilan of all his wealth. He returns, in an utterly dejected and defeated state to his faithful wife. Kannaki, who has been pining away for him not only offers words of consolation but also one of her gold anklets to sell and raise some money.
The couple then goes to Madurai where Kovilan approaches the King's goldsmith with the anklet.
The evil goldsmith, who had stolen one of the queen's anklets, goes to the king and portrays Kovilan as the thief. The king orders to kill Kovilan. A distraught Kannaki, on coming to know of
his death, rushes to the palace, confronts the king and proves her anklet contains emeralds unlike the queen's anklet filled with rubies. She then curses the king and in her rage, transforms herself to the angry goddess Bhadrakali.
The 'Atta Katha” (Kathakali play) by Prof. K Marumakan Raja was staged by Kathakali Club, Thrissur here on December 27 to commemorate his 25th death anniversary.
Raja, who belonged to the Kodungallur royal family, was a multifaceted personality straddling the world of mathematics, his field of choice for a career, and that of Akshara slokam (recital of slokas
in Sanskrit and Malayalam, like 'Antakshari'), Kathakali and Melam, the traditional drums and pipes musical ensemble, an integral part of Kerala temple festivals.
Prior to the performance, a meeting was held in which several speakers lauded Raja's contributions to Kathakali and to the club itself. Prof. George S Paul said art forms like Kathakali needed to be preserved and propagated, not as static, ancient art forms, but as dynamic, growing entities.
“Kathakali was ideal in this respect that it, like Carnatic music, appeals to people across cultures and continents, without the burden of language,” he said.
Thus, William Shakespeare's “Tempest” and “King Lear” found ready audience at several performences across Europe and the United States of America (USA), he added. In both cases, Raja played a part. He translated David McRuvie's adaptation of King Lear into an 'Atta Katha' in Malayalam on the request of noted French choreographer Annette Leday.
Chilapathikaram has been adapted to Kathakali stage by Kalamandalam Krishnan Kutty Poduwal.
Apart from Chilapathikaram, Raja had also authored “Shishyanum Makanum' (Disciple and Son), Dharma Sashtha and “Tempest”, based on the famous play by Shakespeare.
The first scene opens with Kovilan, a rich man in Kaveri poompattinam very much in love with Kannaki, a pretty lass whom he had just married. The happy couple engage in a conversation
extolling the virtues of each other.
The second scene features the court of the Chola King. A Nattuvan (dance master) arrives with Madhavi, a dancer whom he had trained and seeks permission for a performance. Her dancing
skills impresses the King so much that he presents her with a necklace.
Madhavi then announces that whosoever buys the necklace will have her hand in marriage. Kovilan is the only one who has enough money and she marries him. Entranced by her beauty and
other charms, Kovilan forgets all about his wife and starts living with her.
However, soon fed up with her spendthrift ways and avarice that makes him a pauper, Kovilan returns to Kannaki and they have a tearful reunion. They leave the city and on reaching Madurai,
the capital of the Pandya kingdom, Kannaki persuades Kovilan to try and sell one of her gold anklets.
Kovilan approaches a goldsmith, who is shown boasting about his clout in the royal court. While even Ministers and other dignitaries have to seek prior appointment and wait to get an audience with the King, he is the onlly one who could directly walk into the King's presence any time of the day and be welcomed.
On seeing the anklet, the evil goldsmith decides to put the blame on Kovilan for one of the queen's anklets that he had stolen years ago. So on the pretext of getting an assessment of the value of the ankllet from experts, he leaves asking Kovilan to remain there till he returns.
The goldsmith then goes to the palace and informs the king that the thief who stole the queen's anklet was in his workplace and he could be caught and the stolen property recovered. The king
despatches two of his guards with instructions to kill the thief and get the anklet.
The goldsmith points out Kovilan to the guards who promptly slit his throat and takes the anklet to the king. In the meanwhile, Kannaki, searching for her missing husband, finds her husband's body in the goldsmith's shop.
She then approaches the King who tells her that Kovilan was killed because he had stolen the queen's anklet. Kannagi then tells the king that her anklet was filled with emeralds and throws it down. The anklet bursts open and emeralds spill out on the floor.
A repentent king realises his mistake but not before Kannaki flies into such a rage that she curses the king and his kingdom resulting in the burning down of Madurai. Kannaki assumes the form of Bhadrakali, who is appeased with puja and other rites by saints and Brahmins.
Raja, according to experts, had managed to adapt the classical work to Kathakali without deviating from the text and following all theatrical conventions of the dance drama. Both the uninitated and
discerning audience would find enough dramatic high points to keep their interest alive till the last.
The latest staging, after a gap of decades, featured Kalamandalam Balasubramanian as Kovilan, Margi Vijayakumar as Kannaki, Haripriya Namboothiri as Madhavi, Kalamandalam Suraj as Chola King, Kalamandalam Hari R Nair as Nattuvan and later as Bhadrakali, Pishapilli Rajiv as the goldsmiith and Kalamandalam Arun Warrier as Pandya king.
Singers were Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan and Kalamandalam Harish. Percussion instrumentalists were Kalamandalam Krishnadas (chenda), Kalamandalam Narayanan Nair and Kalamandalam Srijith (mridangam).
Chutti (makeup) was by Barbara Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Ravikumar.
On several occasions Thrissur Kathakali Club had staged 'Chilappathikaram' on several stages across Tamil Nadu to much acclaim.
Raja, son of Kodungallur Kunjikavu Thampuratti and Attuprath Raman Bhattathiripad, was born on July 11, 1926. After preliminary education at Kodungallur, he graduated from Maharaja's College at Ernakulam. Moving to Madras, he joined the Presidency College and passed MA and M. Sc. (Maths) with University rank.
Starting his career as a teacher under Madras Education department, he switched over to Kerala service following formation of the state. Having held teaching posts at Brunnen College, Thalasseri, Victoria College, Palakad, Engineering college, Thiruvananthapuram, he retired as Professor of Mathamatics from Engineering College, Thrissur.
His book 'Bharatiya Nyaya Shastravum Adhunika Ganithavum' (Indian logic science and modern mathematics) that illustrated and simplified complex mathematical principles with examples derived from Indian mythology, poetry and folklore has been published by Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad. In 1991, it won an awad in popular science section, instituted by the state Science and Technology department.
After retirement, he also earned a name for tution classes at his home in mathematics for everyone, ranging from school students to those appearing for Chartered Accountancy, engineering and other specialised courses. He was also a pioneer in entrance coaching classes for engineering colleges, in Thrissur.