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Duryodhana Vadham through the eyes of women
- G Ulaganathan
Photos: VB Suresh

May 28, 2019

We are used to interesting traditional Kathakali performances by men and many stories from Mahabharata were the favourite sources for them. Kathakali is a demanding dance form and needs tremendous amount of energy and practice. Of late there have been some women performers also but they are usually given comparatively soft roles.

It is said the legendary Mrinalini Sarabhai was the first female dancer to don the Kathakali robes those days. Interestingly on her 101st birthday, we had an all women troupe from Tripunithura in Kerala presenting an elaborate three hour performance at the Indira Nagar Sangeetha Sabha in Bengaluru on 11th May to a packed audience. Its chief protagonist, Parvathi Menon, a well-known Kathakali dancer from Kerala, has over 40 years of experience on stage and she donned the role of Duryodhana.

According to her, the troupe Tripunithura Vanitha Kathakali Sangham, an all women troupe of Kathakali performers, was formed in 1975 and has performed all over the country taking excerpts from the great Indian epic. "Performing Duryodhana's role requires a lot of energy and we have to make different sounds from our mouth," she says. Interestingly before the actual action unfolds on stage, Duryodhana comes and performs a lot of rituals behind the curtain, though from the audience point of view, it was a bit too long.

Vayaskara Aryan Narayanan Mooss has written this 'attakkatha' named Duryodhana Vadham in which Duryodhana becomes the main character. The story begins with Duryodhana meeting Dharmaputra and inviting him to play the game of dice with his uncle Sakuni. There were four scenes which encapsulated the essence of the Mahabharata - the game of dice, humiliation of Panchali, Krishna entering the centre stage, his mediation mission to the court of Dhritharashtra, he being insulted by the Kauravas, the ultimate battle, killing of Dushasana and applying the blood on Panchali's dishevelled hair. Surprisingly, though the production was called Duryodhana Vadham, the curtains come down after Dushasana's death.

The most interesting part of the performance was the elaborate costumes and make-up. Excellent choreography and imaginative moves like Panchali being dragged on the stage from amidst the audience, the game of dice with the main players sitting on the floor, and the fierce battle scene made Duryodhana Vadham an absorbing show. Sharanya Premdas played Dushasana, Arya Parapoora as Dharmaputra, Purnima Menon in the role of Sakuni, Haripriya as Panchali and Pramila Vijayan as Krishna performed their roles with aplomb.

The live chenda and maddalam support by Sadanam Jithin, Kalamandalam Ganesh and Aneesh was an asset to the whole performance. Rajeevan and Harishankar provided excellent vocal support. All in all, a wonderful performance and one couldn't really make out that it was an all-women troupe. It goes to show that Kerala has broken the gender barrier convincingly.

Ulaganathan Ganesan is a senior dance critic based in Bengaluru.

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