Kathakali Sandhya: Dakshayagam
- Swetha Krishnan
e-mail: krissweths@gmail.com
Photos courtesy: Reshmi Nair Ghosh

March 9, 2014

The Indiranagar Sangeetha Sabha, Bangalore, saw a Kathakali evening on Feb 23, 2014 presented by Kalamandalam Gopi ashan and team. A three hour dance performance is akin to a test match nowadays but the performance by the vocalists, percussionists and the dancers really held the evening together. The evening started with the customary invocations, a percussion set and vocals. Vocal by Pathiyoor Sankaran Kutty and Kalanilayam Rajeevan indeed was a key element to enjoyment of the entire performance. Kalamandalam Krishnadas and Kalamandalam Venumohan on chenda and Kalamandalam Achuta Warrier and Kalanilayam Rakesh on maddalam were brilliant and one could have happily spent the next few hours just listening to them.

The evening started with a Purapaddu which was presented differently with two male characters Rama and Krishna introducing the piece as against the customary couple. There are a few times in life when you truly witness brilliance that is born out of talent, years of experience and sheer mastery of a craft. This was once such time. Gopi ashan opened Dakshayagam as Daksha and suffice to say he was Daksha. I saw what he wanted me to see, I smiled when he smiled, I felt his pride in the child his heart adopted the moment he laid eyes on her and I felt sad for him knowing what was in store. One could have watched him all night.

The next scene opened to a young Sathi praying for Shiva as a husband. It was dismaying to see the utter lack of feeling in the artist playing Sathi specially after having watched Gopi ashan. Kalamandalam Neeraj as the Brahmin Shiva taunting Sathi to give up on Shiva was quite good and is someone to watch out for in the future.

The subsequent Daksha parts were played by Kalamandalam Shanmukhadas who though quite wooden in expression made up with the energy and feeling he brought with his movement. The percussionists and vocalists were brilliant in lending the atmosphere required and the entry of Veerabhadran and Bhadrakali was most entertaining. At this point however, one felt the stage was perhaps too small to host this piece. The energetic movements of Veerabhadran and Bhadrakali along with the ear splitting screams left one round eyed but one was also aware of a sense of discontent and noise in the performance. It might be that artistes with more experience would have held the audience attention better. The whole narrative was chopped a fair bit to be able to finish it in the allotted three hours. 

A couple of aspects about Dakshayagam hit me rather forcefully. An Indian audience knows the story of Daksha and Sathi as one where Sathi immolates herself as she is unable to bear the insults leveled at her husband. However, in the Kathakali version it is she who is insulted by her father and is enraged enough to command her husband to kill her own father. Shiva appears as more the voice of reason in this choreography rather than the one in uncontrollable temper. He seems rather resigned to the fact that he, with his home in Kailasa, his tiger skins and snakes will never command the respect due to a son-in-law.

The second aspect is that while the primary character in a scene almost always commands attention due to the scenes played out as they are, if the secondary character on stage is not able to bring silence to their part it can be quite distracting. Kalamandalam Kasinathan as Vedavalli lending support to Gopi ashan as Daksha was fantastic in this regard. Gopi ashan’s brilliance was more apparent because of it. Hopefully, we get more opportunities in the future to watch these wonderful artistes.