Novel Kathakali, in memory of a great poet

Kalamandalam Rajasekharan’s vivid performance of Chintha Vishtayaya Sita.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Amidst rhythmic drumbeats and the jingle of cymbals, the vibrantly colored drapes danced in the flickering lamplight. This was a novel presentation of Kathakali, unprecedented and remarkable.

The poignant poem ‘Chintha Vishtayaya Sita’ by renowned poet Kumaranasan, brought to life through dance by Kalamandalam Rajasekharan, showcased as the second solo female character performance in Kathakali — following the first pathbreaking act, ‘Poothana Moksham.’

Rajasekharan graced the stage of the Regional Theatre of Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the Thrissur Kathakali Club while also celebrating his artistry, acknowledged with a prestigious gold medal. The tribute held deeper significance as we approach the centenary of Kumaranasan’s passing in 2024.

The artist skillfully condensed 25 selected verses from the sprawling 192-verse chronicle of Sita’s life in the ‘Valmiki Ramayana’ into a compelling 90-minute narrative. His enactment examined the essence of womanhood and the depths of sorrow, essentially presenting a condensed version of the Ramayana itself.

Kalamandalam Rajasekharan's enactment of ‘Chintha Vishtayaya Sita’ stands out.

Kalamandalam Rajasekharan showcasing ‘Chintha Vishtayaya Sita’.
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Masterful Showcase

The audience was greeted by a profound visual of the central figure, her posture reflecting a deep dissatisfaction with the strife in life. The diverse tales that unfolded allowed for the artist’s creative expression to shine, bringing the character’s inner turmoil to life.

With the initial padam set to Anandabhairavi raga and Chembada tala, her inner despondency was perfectly captured. The performance journeyed through her marriage to Rama and serene palace life, with each subsequent event skilfully portrayed through chosen verses and musical arrangements, bringing a richness to the poet’s profound words. The deft hand gestures (mudras) animated the narrative beautifully.

A Profound Depiction of Sita

Rajasekharan’s representation was especially notable for his sensitive, yet powerful portrayal of female characters, particularly Sita in this instance. Her portrayal, donning a saffron sari and rudraksha, powerfully indicated her time at sage Valmiki’s hermitage following her abandonment.

During the ‘agni pareeksha’ segment, his performance was both authentic and restrained, paying homage to the subtleties of female character portrayals in traditional Kathakali without overemphasis on any particular emotion. Additionally, the original verses penned by the poet rendered the dialogue immediately engaging for the viewers.

Vocal renditions by Kalamandalam Vinod, with support from Kalamandalam Yaswant, and percussion by Kalamandalam Raj Narayanan (maddalam) and Kalamandalam Nidhin Krishna (edakka) complemented the performance excellently.

An authority on female character roles (Sthree vesham), Rajasekharan has served as the principal of Kerala Kalamandalam and is an advocate for the southern style (Thekkan Chitta). An accomplished author, his works include the influential three-volume ‘Attaprakaram of Thekkan Chitta’ — a guide to the dance style still taught at Kalamandalam, along with texts like ‘Sthree Veshams in Kathakali’ and ‘Rajalochanam’, a collection of his essays.

Kalamandalam Rajasekharan’s talented family includes his wife Kalamandalam Shylaja, a former head of the Department of Koodiyattam, and their son Kalamandalam Vysakhan, a renowned Kathakali artist.

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