Manikanda Charitam
- Prabal Gupta

July 5, 2016

Sree Aiyappa Bhajana Sangham organized a Kathakali performance by Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Palakkad, headed by Guru Sadanam Harikumar, on June 18 in Bangalore. Penned and choreographed by Guru Sadanam Harikumar, the new katha ‘Manikanda Charitam’ pivots around the king of Panthala receiving Lord Aiyappa as his son and the advent of the Muslim culture in Kerala through Vavur from Turkistan. The katha commenced with the king of Panthala (Sadanam Manikanthan) province in Kerala and his wife worshipping Lord Shiva to get an heir. The prayer to the lord accompanied with the effect of velanthala adroitly by Sadanam Jithin propounded a divine essence culminating with a neat salutation. The “addidikada” kalasam with a neat naliratti set as a prelude for the hunting sequence by the veteran guru looked perfect. The precise “illakkyattam” followed with the cholliyattam “Parimala pooritha vipina somanikaram…” with the subtle movement of his torso, the swarming of the bees around the flower, the opening of each petals of the lotus in “Pulinae nalinae dalatal...” choreographed with minute subtlety and so was his execution with absolute perfection.  The king finds Manikanda being protected by a saint along the banks of the river Pampa. He requests the saint for the child as his son and gets his plea granted.
The scene two opens with Manikanda in his youth essayed by Sadanam Bhasi. His immaculate pleasing stage presence, neat dance sequences, vibrating kalasams with his outstanding body control definitely needs mention. Moreover, the aesthetically designed costumes by Sadanam Harikumar, the spectacular  round ‘Muti’ or the head gear suitable for Manikanda (Lord Aiyappa) elevated the performance of Sadanam Bhasi to a superlative level. Vibrant entry, neat nokikanna at his foster father, the execution of the 28 matras atanta padam “Palaka Padu” as he arrives at the king’s council and bows interspersed with neat circular vettam vachchu kalasams looked exceptionally good. This chitta padam of Manikandan with “Itti itta itti tita”, “Tai dhit tai, dhit dhit tai” kalasams along with attakam and tomkaram choreographed by the stalwart appeared flawless.

The initiation of scene 3 with the messenger arriving at the court of King Panthala to convey the news of the arrival of a notorious pirate named Vavur choreographed in the format of a chitta padam of the dutan of “Jaya Jaya Nagaketana jagadipatae” from Uttara Swayamvaram brilliantly by Harikumar could have reached better heights if executed by a seasoned performer.

Sadanam Harikumar as Vavur

Scene 4 visualizes a magnificent performance by Sadanam Harikumar himself as Vavur. Aesthetically designed costume with the colour inspired by the white and the green colour of the mosques, usage of newly created silver jewelry instead of the traditional ornaments of Kathakali so congruous to the Muslim character, a magnificent kireetam inspired by the dome shape of the mosques gives this character a new vivacity. But what is unique is the aesthetically designed chutti unlike the traditional one suiting the character. Usage of manyola along with the green colour in places of the beard to bring out the macho bearded Muslim character definitely deserves appreciation.
Vavur describes the beauty of Kerala and the natural habitats of the people of the state, their affinity towards wine, the beautiful boat racing ‘Vallamkali’; climbing up of coconut trees to pluck coconuts was done with finesse. Vavur sees the pathetic plight of the oppressed.  He goes to various places and raids the nobles. The refinement and the assurance with which a noble is described riding an elephant are commendable. Vavur then goes in search of the poor to give them the accumulated money. His proceeding with the “iddak kalasam” and the newly created Kathakali kalasam inspired from a Bharatanatyam “teermanam” looked gripping and vouches for his brilliant choreography. He then sees the arrival of Manikanda and sensing an attack goes to the ship and tries to flee. Manikanda slings the arrow and cuts the mast. The movement of the body so concomitant to the rear end of the ship going up when a mast is being hit was beautifully portrayed by Sadanam Harikumar.
Enraged, Vavur and Manikanda fight leading Vavur to be tired. The denouement of the katha comes with Manikanda becoming friends with Vavur, thereby drawing a metaphorical significance of the beautiful synthesis of the Muslim and Hindu culture in Kerala. Soulful singing by Sadanam Sivadas and Sadanam Jyothish Babu with their controlled high pitched marvelous raga rendition and dexterous support on the chenda by Sadanam Jithin and maddalam by Sadanam Rajagopalan culminated in a rounded performance.

Prabal Gupta is a Kathakali exponent and a disciple of Guru and research scholar Sadanam Balakrishnan. He is the recipient of the Young Achiever's Award 2015 conferred on him by the Tagore Cultural Association, Bangalore, for his contribution in the field of Kathakali.