The Nine Rasas and Remembering Kalidasa
- KRS Narayanan

December 28, 2011

(An assessment of the ‘Kalidasa Smriti’ organized from Dec 16 to 19 at Natanakairali)

Kapila Venu as Sakuntala

Even as Natanakairali strove to find a space for natural yet creative expression over the last decade, this was done with the full consciousness of the orthodox circumstances that set apart the singularity in form and technique of Kutiyattam.  It was with the full blessings of Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar and Guru Ammannur Parameswara Chakyar, the two leading lights of the Ammannur style that such a silent revolution was conceptualised by G Venu, their favourite disciple who leads Natanakairali from the front. The first venture in this direction was the creative take on Abhijnanasakuntalam.

Kutiyattam was shaped by the theatre maestros of Kerala over many generations to present plays written in Sanskrit.  Even from ancient times poems and plays written in different parts of India used to find their way to Kerala either in the form of hand written copies or in palm leaf manuscripts.  With a desire to see some of these performed, the concepts in folk art forms were combined with the prevalent concepts in performance rooted in Natyasastra to realize not the limiting ‘Natya’ but ‘Kutiyattam’ that echoed its closeness with the local language and culture.  Kutiyattam remains Kerala’s own art form for here the actor thinks and moves according to the stage directions in the native language rather than the language used for the lines in the play.

Though only some Sanskrit plays are performed in Kutiyattam, they are not representative of all great plays in the language.  For example, Kalidasa’s plays are not there in the Kutiyattam repertoire.  Since G Venu felt that this was a shortcoming considering Kutiyattam’s antiquity and its time tested style of presentation, he started working on the Abhijnanasakuntalam text to produce it as Kutiyattam.  The first performance was in 2002 spread over four days for a total of 13 hours. This was followed by many stages at the regional, national, and international venues. The production had 121 venues in the last 10 years that ranged from one day performances, those spread over several days and even 10 hour long performance on a single day.  For a classical art form like Kutiyattam, this is a big achievement.  That the text was performed at a 10 hour stretch in one day in Rome, Paris and the National School of Drama, New Delhi is a unique achievement.

Pothiyil Ranjith Chakyar as Dushyanta, Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar as Vidushaka
and TR Saritha as Chathurika – a scene from Sakuntalam Kutiyattam

Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar as Matali and Pothiyil Ranjith Chakyar
as Dushyanta - a scene from Sakuntalam Kutiyattam
Sakuntalam Kutiyattam is the first fully developed work at the Abhinayakalari (Acting laboratory) of Natanakairali.  The aim of the Abhinayakalari is to do a very close study of the potential in manifesting emotions and the elaboration of such potential to its furthest limit.  It is in this manner that acting concepts like ‘Rathavegam’ (speeding a chariot) and ‘Bhramarabaadha’ (ward off the bee) that Kalidasa specifies is included in Kutiyattam.  It is the norm not to deviate at all from the Kramadipika and Attaprakaram that is written for Kutiyattam productions.  But in the case of Sakuntalam it was decided not to insist on such norms from the outset.  There have been many changes that have been incorporated to many sections over these ten years in the production of Kalidasa’s play.  It is this constant renewal that sustains every production a ‘contemporary Kutiyattam.’

G Venu as fisherman in Sakuntalam Kutiyattam
Kapila Venu’s rendering of the Navarasas
The fifth edition of the Kalidasa Smriti was organized at Natanakairali from December 16 to 19 to pay homage to the great poet.  These days witnessed the workshop that examined in detail the local variations in the concept and understanding of Navarasas that are based on the Natyasastra.  This was inaugurated by Dr. K.G. Paulose, former Vice Chancellor, Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University.  This was followed by Kapila Venu’s rendering of the Navarasas that Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar had choreographed for Kamsavadham Nangiarkoothu.  KG Paulose opined that Kulasekhara’s ‘Vyangya Vakhya’ is an important continuation of Bharatha’s Natyasastra at the level of praxis in Kerala.  He also said that the Navarasa centric elaboration of the Mahabharatha story in the vyangya vyakhya of Kulasekhara proves the importance given here to Navarasas in the scheme of acting.  The acting laboratory at the Kodungalloor palace that emerged in later years was a continuation of the Kulasekhara’s theatre tradition.  G Venu, director of the workshop, said that it was the training and practice that Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon and Ammannur Madhava Chakyar had at the Kodungalloor palace that made for their unrivalled range of emotional expression in Kathakali and Kutiyattam.

Mohiniyattam exponent Nirmala Paniker opined that it was thanks to the works of the Sangam period that detailed studies in theatre concepts became a possibility in South India.  She made this observation as part of the lec dem on the concept of the Navarasas and the south Indian tradition.  She said that those dancers whose dances had more expressive content were referred to as ‘Virali.’  According to Silappadikaram, Virali means ‘Satwamaavathu’ (acting with deep involvement).  Swami Hari Om Ananda’s very close examination of the state of ‘Santham’ through a series of questions and answers on the 18th was an unforgettable experience.  On the 19th, at 10 in the morning, Sadanam Harikumar gave a lec dem on the topic Navarasa in music for performances which revealed his command over both theory and practice.

Every day, in the evening there were performances of Sakuntalam Kutiyattam directed by G Venu which was a part of Kalidasa Smriti.  The seven acts from Nandi to Bharathavakya were performed over four days.  The actors included Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar, G Venu, Pothiyil Ranjit Chakyar, Ammannur Rajanish Chakyar, Kapila Venu, TR Saritha, and Ammannur Madhav.  The background score was by Kalamandalam Rajeev, Kalamandalam Hariharan, Kalamandalam Narayanan Nambiar, Nirmala Paniker and Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan and the costume was by Kalanilayam Haridas. G Venu said that a decade long studies at the practice in the Navarasas is the aim of Natanakairali.