Taichi of expression from God’s own country
- Sumana Srinivasan, Mumbai

October 17, 2011

Koodiyattam… the word called me out from a mass of jumbled papers on a tea-table in my friend’s house. It was the NCPA brochure and my mind raced back to several years ago when I had read about the art form in Sruti magazine describing the marvelous performance of the legendary artiste Ammanur Madhava Chakyar. This was going to be my first tryst with the art form!

The trip to NCPA from IIT Powai was fraught with hurdles - hot humid weather, rickety taxi ride, dust clouds, thunder storm and a snarled traffic jam!!  Was it worth all this? I entered the Experimental Theatre puffing and panting fifteen minutes late just when Dr. Indu G, wife of Margi Madhu, was concluding her description of the show that was to follow. I settled in my seat and started to savor the ambience. The kuthu villakku burning bright, a pair of mizhavus (drums, English language is so inadequate) standing like sentinels at the back, unspoken yet but heralding what was to come. The mizhavu artiste, Kalamandalam Ratheesh entered the stage and after a tiny salutary movement, struck the first note on the drum. It built up slowly to a crescendo and in came the second mizhavu player, Kalamandalam Anoop and the Edakka player, Kalanilayan Rajan, with a curtain. This was followed by the majestic entry of the main artiste Madhu in all his regalia.  He came, he sat and he began his conquest.
The show ‘Himakaram’ was about Ravana’s reaction to Sita’s beauty. The episode is from Asokavanikangam where Ravana is smitten by Sita’s beauty and his longing for her is a doomed unrequited love.  There was no music or lyrics.  A haunting rhythm, a pair of eyes and a pair of hands began to weave magic. The mixture of emotions seemed to match the multitude of colors on the richly painted face expertly made up by Kalamandalam Satheesan. Ravana begins to describe the five aspects of Sita’s beauty (Panchangam) by describing five parts of her body - hair, eyes, face, breasts and feet.

The soft, silky sheen of Sita’s hair comes alive when the peacock feather is jealous of it and asks Brahma, the creator himself to judge the beauty contest. Brahma, as expected, judges that Sita’s hair is more beautiful and the color of expressions on Margi Madhu’s face depicting the feather’s emotions matched the colors on the feather itself - black for anger, green for envy and blue for utter disappointment and sadness for its defeat. Brahma decorates the hair with buds; half and fully opened flowers with each flower coming alive with the tremulous movements of the hands and eyes accompanied by the sounds of the mizhavus and the edakka matching stroke by stroke. It was amazing how the drummers could keep track of the subtle and fine nuances of the abhinaya in spite of being seated behind the artiste.

The shape and languorous eyes of Sita took its birth from a slow deliberate movement with the percussion following the lines.  Ravana’s reaction on seeing her breasts began with gentle circular movements near his chest, weaving the contours of their shape, the ups and downs with the percussion enhancing and embellishing the contours and finally growing into a crescendo when Ravana is overtaken and completely overwhelmed by lust, sits stricken and hapless by their beauty.

He looks at the moon angrily and cries out, “Himakara….” The moon and the gentle breeze that brings coolness to people seem to fan the fire of love that is scorching him. He says, “Don’t be proud that you defeated me, O, moon! It is neither the cupid’s arrows nor your rays that is causing me this sorrow. janaka duhitaayaha dukha bhavena - It is Janaka’s daughter’s grief that is burning me.”  For Ravana, Sita is like the forbidden fruit. The Ravana of Ramayana had more dignity than the Ravanas of today. Ravana never touched Sita but waited endlessly, wooing her and hoping that she would reciprocate his love. It is the fire of her grief that arouses him and the very same grief that also prevents her from reciprocating his amorous wooing. The feeling of hopelessness of his situation torn between his love towards her and her indifference towards him was the point where Margi Madhu took me through a worm hole into another dimension, into Lanka, into Asoka vanam and merged me with Ravana. What a brilliant act!!