Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Last night's Koodiyattam presentation at ITI was my first, and I was awed.

There were three parts to the presentation - navarasa sadhana (nine moods), and two excerpts from the Thoranayuddham - Kailasodharanam (Ravana's war against Vaisravana) and Parvativiraham (it's like a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati - a love quarrel?). There were ten performers and all of them had roles to play in each part of the presentation. It is interesting to note that the ten are from different cultural backgrounds.

Navarasa Sadhana was really impressive. The nine moods that the performers had to achieve were sringara (erotic), adbhuta (wonder), vira (heroic), raudra (anger), bhayanaka (fear), karuna (pathos), hasya (humour), bibhatsa (disgust), and shanta (peaceful). From observation, performers had to empty their minds and concentrate on embodying the different states, which, when achieved, will be passed on to the audience.

As a spectator, I felt and 'tasted' the states that some of the performers achieved. To me, it was more like the performer passing on his energy to the spectator through his concentration and breath. The eyes and brows played a lot of role in expressing the different states. Through their attempts in bringing out the different energies and states, I could actually recognise who the actors are as individuals. I'm not sure how to articulate this but while they embody different emotions they also paint who they truly are, and this can be seen in how they 'rise' and 'fall' from one state to another.

The Kailasodharanam excerpt was challenging because I could not decipher the movements and what they were trying to portray. Kailasodharanam is about war against another - Ravana, after killing his stepbrother's messenger in fury, set out with an army to where his stepbrother resided. Ravana won the war and took an air chariot as war booty. The dialogue between Ravana and the messenger was awfully vivid (this was done by just one performer... usually a performer plays dual roles), especially the part when Ravana brutally killed the messenger. The performers were exploding with Ravana's fury. Hair-raising, really.

I found the Parvativiraham excerpt enchanting. Each player had to play dual roles, and present the dialogue between Shiva and Parvati. It was brilliant how they had to change from one role to another, from Shiva to Parvati, and from one state to another - from loving to grieving. The story is about the two lovers having a private time, when suddenly Parvati saw a woman, Ganga, in the Lord's hair. She questioned Shiva about it - each time she questioned, Shiva would come up with a lie. I simply loved how mischievous the exchange was, but it caused so much grief to Parvati (players were excellent at playing the role and I couldn't help but feel sad for Parvati). I especially loved how the performers movements speak to me - it was all scriptless but their facial and hand gestures sparked a script in my own mind!

Being exposed to Koodiyattam for the first time last night was a big experience and I'm glad I went. I pondered on whether these students actors had to break themselves open, to empty themselves of their self, and to embody so many different moods and roles. It's tough work. Tiresome because you have to empty yourself but at the same time be conscious of your being.

Parvati reunited with Shiva

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