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Succinct presentation
V R Prabodha Chandran Nair

‘K iraatham' (The Episode of the Hunter) is a popular play that enjoys wide acceptance among Kathakali rasikas. There are several reasons why rasikas enjoy the play. It is the story of a person's unflinching devotion to the Almighty and the devotee's willingness to sacrifice even his life to stick to what he considers is the path of righteousness.

Staging ‘Kiraatham' presents comparatively few challenges to organisers and make-up artistes as there are only three major roles to be handled by senior actors: Kiratha, Kirathasthree (Siva and Parvathi in disguise as a hunter and his wife) and Arjuna.

Siva, Parvathi and their assistants, and Durodhana's delegate, the demon Mooka disguised as a wild boar, have minor roles only. This provides sufficient room for junior actors and even beginners to polish their skill. ‘Kiraatham' falls into a tiny group of Kathakali plays that do not call for ‘kaththi' (denoting characters with shades of negative traits) and chemanna thaadi, traditionally indispensable for a full-fledged performance of Kathakali.

Despite the presence of several undertones of subtle philosophy, ‘Kiraatham' is noted for its overall simplicity. Musicians of all grades love to render the padams (songs) and quatrains (including the dandakam – a narrative with extra-long metrical feet) in it.

Mavelikkara Prabhakara Varma, a renowned Carnatic music teacher, used to choose as his main item the padam ‘Paramesa paahi' (Thodi), the initial prayer of Arjuna in the play.

‘Kiraatham' is the only existing work of its author, Rama Warier, of the 18th century.

Enacted in temples

It is one of the most popular stories enacted, especially in Siva temples and during festivals, more or less ritualistically on the night of the performance of the ritualistic ‘pallivetta' (sacred hunt). Rasikas of an older generation recall the scintillating performances at the Natakasala of Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram when luminaries such as Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Kudamallur Karunakaran Nair, and Mankulam Vishnu Namputhiri donned the major roles.

The play used to be staged in full, starting with the scene wherein Arjuna sets out to propitiate Lord Siva after taking leave of Draupadi. Indra, the chief of the gods, delegating divine damsels to distract Arjuna from his penance; their enchanting Kummi dance and the entry of Lord Siva were also presented without fail. Although Shiva is pleased with Arjuna's penance, he decides to grant him the desired boon in the form of the divine arrow (Paasupathaasthra), only after uprooting his pride and testing his strength and steadfastness.

Recently, Drisyavedi presented a miniature version of ‘Kiraatham' in Thiruvananthapuram. Although it was reminiscent of the ‘capsule Kathakali' performance presented before tourists, Enchakkattu Ramachandran Pillai, Margi Sreevalsan, and Ettumanur Kannan handled the roles of Kiraatha, Kiraathasthree, and Arjuna exquisitely, thus making every moment of the play an experience of aesthetic pleasure.

Margi's expert percussion artistes (RLV Somadas, Krishnakumar and Raveendran) and accomplished musician Kalamandalam Sajeev, assisted efficiently by Kalamandalam Krishnakumar contributed significantly to maintaining the commendable level of excellence for the performance.

thehindu.com

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