Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021 | Last Update : 02:42 AM IST

  Mahabharata to come alive on stage as Kathakali performance

Mahabharata to come alive on stage as Kathakali performance

Published : Nov 1, 2015, 2:07 am IST
Updated : Nov 1, 2015, 2:07 am IST

The Mahabharata will come alive on stage at the India International Centre as a Kathakali performance in Duryodhan Vadham (The Killing of Duryodhan), presented by Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan of the Inte

The Mahabharata will come alive on stage at the India International Centre as a Kathakali performance in Duryodhan Vadham (The Killing of Duryodhan), presented by Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan of the International Centre for Kathakali, on the evening of November 1. Duryodhan Vadham, a popular Kathakali play authored by Vayaskara Aryan Narayanan Moosad (1841-1902), enacts the part of the epic Mahabharata in which the Pandavas defeat their cousins, the Kauravas, when their leader Duryodhan is killed by Bhim on the great battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Despite being almost 3 centuries old, Duryodhan Vadham continues to be a popular play mainly as it a powerful, action-oriented story. “Anybody who has an idea bout the Mahabharata can enjoy this play,” said Guru Balakrishnan. Though the techniques of Kathakali are fixed, there is immense scope for interpretation, and so the play is still much liked said Guru Balakrishnan. “Besides the costumes are so spectacular and colourful!” he added. Normally performed for 8 to 9 hours, this classic has been compressed to fit into a crisp 90 minutes. “The beauty of Kathakali is in elaboration. But everyone doesn’t have time to sit for 8 hours, and without an audience performances cannot survive; we must think of the audience too. So without compromising the tradition of Kathakali, we have edited the play,” said Guru Balakrishnan, who has performed the play in various roles. “Though I have no favourite parts, I have a soft spot for the part of Lord Krishna, because that was the role I played during my arangetram when I was10 years old,” said Guru Balakrishnan, who plays the title role of Duryodhan.

 

The play has elicited a strong audience-performer interaction in its history. The book, Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play, by Phillip Zarrilli, describes one such interaction during a scene at court where the Pandavas are trying to defuse a tense discussion with the Kauravas which will lead to a division of property, the Kauravas refuse to give the Pandavas even a meagre house. At this point, a member in the audience during some past performance rose and declared, “I will give.” This version of Duryodhan Vadham has four women playing male roles. According to tradition, women don’t perform in Kathakali; even female parts are played by men. “Though there were a few exceptions before, now 90 per cent of the performers are women. The most interesting aspect is that they want to perform male roles! I have experienced that they do perform better than boys!” said Guru Balakrishnan, who is a teacher and diretor in addition to being a performing artist.

 

Kathakali, which literally means a “story play,” originated in Kerala in the 17th century. The idiom of Kathakali has been primarily used to tell stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

“Once I was scheduled to perform a 2.5-hour long Kathakali play in Delhi. A week before the performance, I got a call demanding, ‘How dare you perform here ’. A day before the performance we held a workshop on Kathakali when a 50-year-old man came and apologised profusely. He said ‘I didn’t know kathakali is such an alive form!’ You just need an aesthetic sense to appreciate art.”

The play has elicited a strong audience-performer interaction in its history. The book Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play by Phillip Zarrilli describes one such interaction during a scene at court where the Pandavas are trying to defuse a tense discussion with the Kauravas which will lead to a division of property, the Kauravas refuse to give the Pandavas even a meagre house. At this point, a member in the audience during some past performance rose and declared, “I will give.” During the 1930s and 1940s, when the play was immensely popular, this scene of division of property and breaking of kingdoms also resonated with the Nayars, traditional patrons of Kathakali, who themselves were dividing property in the face of changing socio-economic conditions and colonial legislation. In another scene of Durodhan Vadham where Krishna’s entrance is anticipated, Durodhana tells all in his court not to treat him with any respect, to not even stand when he enters the court. When this scene was performed during the run-up to Independence in 1947, many in the audience would stand up when Krishna entered! This act of defiance to the authority that Duryodhana represents, describes Zarrilli, symbolised their resistance to the British rule.

 

Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi