Buddhacharitam - a contribution to the Kathakali repertoire
- Dr. S. D. Desai
e-mail: sureshmrudula@yahoo.co.in

February 15, 2014

Having had on a platter all the comforts, luxury and pleasures life could offer, that too in the prime of his youth, and discard it all as effortlessly as a snake does its dead skin for a life leading to the attainment of the highest kind of knowledge is an extraordinary human endeavour undertaken by the man known in the history of mankind as Lord Buddha. Prabal Gupta, a Kathakali dancer quite gifted for his age, essays pretty well a portrayal of the man, his pursuit, the gradual rise to full enlightenment and his teaching.

The young performer who is particularly known for his streevesham with easy portrayals of mythical characters such as Draupadi, Seeta and Kubja, combines in the solo performance his intricate Kathakali abhinaya, backdrop visuals for elements of nature, appropriate music and relevant text. As part of Darpana Academy’s Festival of Nonviolence, Prabal’s portrayal of the uttama nayaka from our cultural heritage illustrating adherence to Truth and Ahimsa even in the face of temptation and violent aggression seemed appropriate. 

On his visit to Bodh Gaya, he says, he was overwhelmed by the significance of young Siddharth’s decisions, realization and preaching. There is a feel of authenticity about the well-researched depiction. In limiting the work to a little less than an hour, however, he leaves scope for greater depth in the episodes - for example, his weariness at the first exposure to the painful realities of life, in the inner struggle at the time of mahabhinishkraman and his visit to the palace with a mendicant’s bowl. Works like Gowri Ramnarayan’s Yashodhara come to mind.

Prabal’s experimental Kathakali performance, without the elaborate traditional aharya - spectacular costume, makeup and ornaments - but with evocative music and use of multimedia for the changing ambience, is a noteworthy narrative of the life and work of a prince who chose to become a saint, a phenomenal happening in the rich spiritual tradition handed down from generation to generation in India. It is an important contribution to the repertoire of the form, which has in recent years explored some of the western literary classics as well.

Especially noteworthy aspects in his performance, besides the narration, are his endeavour to align the search for harmony within an individual to the all-pervading harmony that can be universally felt and the projection of the image of the Buddha, the Enlightened One, as in a painting. 

Dr. SD Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti,  Nartanam and Attendance. He guest-edited Attendance 2013 Special Issue. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.