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The month of Karkkidakam is a time when Kathakali plays based on the epic Ramayana get prime attention. ‘Seethaswayamvaram’, ‘Balivadham’, and ‘Thoranayudham’ are the ones that are frequently staged, along with ‘Sreeramapattabhishekam’. Sandarshan Kathakali School, Ambalappuzha, took a different path this time, as it presented the rarely staged plays ‘Vichinnabhishekam’ and ‘Kharavadham’ (both by Kottarakkara Thampuran) on the first two days and then ‘Sreeramapattabhishekam’ (by Kottarathil Sankunni) on the final day.
A father’s lament
‘Vichinnabhishekam’ is all about how Rama’s crowning ceremony is ruined when Kaikeyi, ill-advised by Manthara, asks Dasaratha to grant her the two boons, which were promised to her on an earlier occasion.
The play focusses on the character of Dasaratha and Kalamandalam Shanmukhadas proved an apt choice for the role. The initial scene, where Dasaratha listens to Kaikeyi’s demands and the final scene in which Dasaratha dies unable to bear the separation from Rama, were noteworthy as the actor efficaciously brought out the agony, despair and suffering of the helpless King. The self-explored narratives of how the King was blessed with four sons after he performed the Putrakameshti Yaga and how he was cursed by a blind couple for mistakenly killing their only son were also presented neatly. Kalamandalam Sudeep was up to the task as Manthara, who convinces Kaikeyi that once the crowning ceremony is over, she will have to serve Kausalya, the mother of Rama.
Kalanilayam Vinod did well in presenting an adamant Kaikeyi but could’ve made it even more laudable by exploring the character’s possibilities. For instance, he could have showed some affection towards Rama even while Kaikeyi firmly sticks to her demands.
Kalamandalam Neeraj, Kalamandalam Arun Raju and Kalamandalam Jishnu Ravi played the roles of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, respectively. Sudeep and Jishnu Ravi re-appeared as Kausalya and Sumithra in the final scene and Kalamandalam Arun played the role of Sumanthrar, the messenger who brings the news of Rama taking his leave.
‘Kharavadham’ narrates how Surpanakha, while in search of a husband, comes across Rama and Lakshmana in Panchavadi. The two brothers scorn her desire to marry one of them and as she reveals her true self, she ends up being mutilated by Lakshmana.
Kalamandalam Hari R. Nair appeared as Surpanakha in Kari attire and presented the character with élan. Hari made the opening narrative, which describes how the demon lost her husband and has come to Panchavadi looking for a new one, rather powerful, with enough of emotion to make one feel for the character. Once transformed into the beautiful Lalita, Kalamandalam Shanmukhadas had a poised approach when he presented Surpanakha in all elegance, each moment troubled by the arrows of Manmatha.
The opening scene of the play has Rama comforting Sita, telling her that there is no need to fear as long as he and Lakshmana are capable of fighting off demons. Kalamandalam Arun Raju showed his calibre as Rama, with wisely-picked mudras and facial expressions to complement them. The role of Sita was done by Kalamandalam Arun and that of Lakshmana by Kalamandalam Sudeep.
In the final scenes, upon hearing Surpanakha’s story, Khara and his associate Dooshana, set out to take revenge and eventually get killed. Kalanilayam Vinod and Kalamandalam Arunkumar appeared in the roles of these demons.
A visual extravaganza
The air was filled with fragrance, the floor was scattered with flowers and the atmosphere was electrifying. In the middle were Rama and Sita, surrounded by his three brothers and devoted servants Hanuman, Sugreeva and Vibheeshana, amomg others. ‘Sreeramapattabhishekam’ is all about this visual experience when Rama is crowned as the new king of Ayodhya.
The play covers a lot of the storyline and the artistes had to rush through the scenes to make sure that enough time was left available for the culminating ‘pattabhishekam’ scene.
Pathiyoor Sankarankutty and Kalamandalam Jayaprakash led the vocals on the first two days. Sankarankutty was at his best in rendering the lament of Dasaratha set to raga Subhapanthuvarali and Jayaprakash impressed most in the slow tempo padams of Lalitha. They were ably assisted by Kalamandalam Krishnakumar on both the occasions.
The two lead vocalists came together in the final day and yet again delivered their best.
The percussion team, comprising Kalanilayam Manoj and Kalanilayam Rakesh on the maddalam and Kalamandalam Sreehari and Kalamandalam Sreekanth on the chenda, also supported the actors well.