Get ready for a rare Kathakali performance on your screen

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Soumini Varma

Soumini Varma

Auckland, October 13, 2021

On Facebook and YouTube on Thursday October 14, 2021 at 7.30 pm

                                                                                Nalacharitham in Kathakali being performed in Kerala (Photo Courtesy: Mohkum Photoblog)

Kathakali, one of the most colourful and highly admired classical dance form of Kerala, will be performed and streamed live on Facebook and YouTube from 7.30 pm tomorrow, Thursday, October 14, 2021.

The performance is a part of the ongoing Navaratri Virtual Festival conducted by the Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam. It is being sponsored by Biju Surendran of Menon & Associates (2011) Limited based in Auckland.

Long, detailed performance

Kathakali repertoire is an opera type performance where an ancient story, usually from Hindu texts like Ramayana or Mahabharatam, is dramatised. Traditionally, a Kathakali performance is a long item, starting at dusk and continuing through to dawn. Some plays continue over several nights, starting at dusk every day. Modern performances though, are much shorter.

Kathakali is structured around texts called Atta Katha, mostly written in Malayalam Mani Pravalam with a good sprinkling of Sanskrit. These plays are written in a particular format that helps identify the ‘action’ and the ‘dialogue’ parts of the performance.

The text contains Sloka and Padam parts. The Sloka is often written entirely in Sanskrit and this is used to set or describe the immediate context of the play. The Padam is used as a dialogue or monologue in the play.

The Nala-Damayanthi Story

AMHS has chosen for its Kathakali performance, ‘Nalacharitham,’ one of the most popular and critically acclaimed ‘Atta Katha,’ written by Unnayi Warrier in the 18th century. The Nala-Damayanthi love story with the swan as a messenger between them is very popular among Malayalis. Nalacharitham will extend to four nights, with each night’s performance conforming to a text chosen from the original works.

Onnaam Divasam or the First Day will be performed. The excerpt Hamsa Damayanthi Samwadam (conversation between the Swan and Damayanthi), contains the part where the Swan (Hamsam) goes to find out Princess Damayanthi’s feelings toward Nala.

Damayanthi goes to her garden with her friends to distract her mind. She sees the golden swan, tries to catch it and gets separated from her friends.

When the Once the Swan gets Damayanthi away from her friends, he starts speaking and tells her that he has come from the Kingdom of Nishadha whose King is Nala. The Swan tells her that he has come to find out what Damayanthi’s feelings are towards the King.

As she confesses her love, the Swan assures her that her message will be delivered to Nala and that she will soon be united with him. The Swan flies back to King Nala.

The Kathakali performers

The Swan (Hamsam): Renjini Suresh

Renjini started her Kathakali training at a young age under her father

Kalamandalam Karunakaran, better known as Vaikkom Karunakaran. She was further trained in the art under eminent Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Sreekumar, FACT Padmanabhanan & FACT Mohanan.

Renjini is well known for her portrayal of Anti-heroes like Ravana (her favourite). She has successfully portrayed the character in Ravanolbhavam, Ravana Vijayam and Bali Vijayam as well as Narakasuran in Narakasuravadham, the first woman to do so.

Renjini has won prizes in the State Youth Festivals in the School and University levels.

She is also a recipient of the ‘Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar,’ conferred by the Kendra Sangeetha Natak Academy in 2017  and in the same year, she was selected for the prestigious ‘Kalasagar Award’ for Kathakali Vesham. She was a part of the Ladies Troupe of Tripunithura Kathakali Kendram which won the ‘Nari Sakthi Puraskar from the Prime Minister in 2016.

Princess Damayanthi: Saritha Varma

Saritha Varma started her Kathakali training at the age of seven under Kalamandalam Rajan. She is well known for her portrayal of characters like Damayanthi, Kunthi, Poothana and male characters like Raudra Bheema, Nala, Keechaka, Kattala, Duryodhana and Dushasana.

A recipient of many prestigious awards and prizes at the major events including the Kerala State Youth Festival at University level Kathakali competitions, she has performed on more than 800 stages throughout India and abroad including the USA.

She has also organised many Kathakali events in India.

Her passion for Kathakali led her to start a story-telling session using Kathakali mudras on YouTube for creating awareness of the mudras to the younger generation. She conducts online Mudra, Abhinaya and Kathakali classes.

She lives with her family in Palghat and runs a homestay that promotes art and cultural values of India.

Vocal: Sadanam Sivadas

Sadanam Sivadas is a well-known Kathakali Musician who started Kathakali music training under Sadanam Jyothi. In 1986, he joined Gandhi Seva Sadanam Academy Palghat as a student and trained under eminent Gurus Kalamandalam Narayanan Nampoothiri, Sadanam Shyamalan and Kalanilayam Ramakrishnan. After completing his Post-graduate Diploma, he started his career as an instructor in his Academy, continuing to International Kathakali Academy, New Delhi for a short period in between. He now works at Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University as Kathakali Music instructor.

In his career as a musician, he has been the recipient of numerous Awards for Kathakali Music such as Kalamandalam Venmani Haridas Award (2014), BCKA Bengaluru (Bengaluru (Bangalore) (2016), Mangalathamma Award Kanyakumar (2016), Sree Chakra Goureesam Award Palghat (2019).

He is the first of the two musicians in our Programme.

Vocal: Sadanam Saikumar

Saikumar completed his Diploma and Post Diploma in Kathakali Music from Gandhi Seva Sadanam Academy, Palghat and a graduate degree in Kathakali Music from Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University.

His achievements include Chalakudy Nambeesan Memorial Endowment Award and being a B-High grade artist in All India Radio. Saikumar has performed in various stages in India and abroad including Dubai, Greece and Portugal.

Chenda (Percussion): Sadanam Jithin

A noted Chenda artiste, Jithin completed his diploma and postgraduate diploma in Chenda from Gandhi Seva Sadanam Academy, Palghat. He trained under eminent gurus Sadanam Gopalakrishnan and Sadanam Vasudevan. As well as working as a teacher at the Academy, he is a performing percussionist at Kathakali, Thayambaka and Melam programmes.

Maddalam (Percussion): Sadanam Jayaraj

Sadanam Jayaraj completed his graduate and postgraduate diplomas in Maddalam from the Gandhi Seva Sadanam Academy Palghat. His skills enabled him to receive a Central Government Scholarship.

Jayaraj was won several prizes by participating in competitions during his student days. He has participated in various festivals since 1994 including the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the International Ramayana Festival in Thailand (2011).

He now works as “Maddalam” teacher at Thiruvillwamala Vadya Kala Sanghatana.

Aniyara (Costume & Make up): RLV Anuraj

Anuraj is an upcoming artiste in the field of Kathakali.

After completing his graduation from the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, he continued to perform Kathakali at various art festivals in India including Surya Festival, Konark Festival and Kala Godha Festival. He has also performed Kathakali in various countries outside India including Australia. He finished his training under eminent gurus Kalamandalam Jayaprakash Narayanan, Kalamandalam Sreekumar, Pallipuram Sunil and Kalamandalam Radhakrishnan. Anuraj is helping us by being the backstage and Aniyara facilitator and coordinator.

Soumini Varma is Secretary, Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam based in Auckland.

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