Mudra in collaboration with Siglap South CC IAEC, hosted Kathakali performances by a team of renowned artists led by the veteran of this art form, Padma Shri Kalamandalam Gopi Ashaan.

Supported by HE Jawed Ashraf, High Commissioner of India to Singapore, guided by Dr. Uma Rajan of Siglap South CC IAEC and supported by various Malayalee associations in Singapore, it resulted in a weekend of rich cultural experience for the appreciative audience. The artists were felicitated by MP Mr. Edwin Tong as well as by the many Malayalee Associations in Singapore.

The weekend  feast began with Karnasapadham on Saturday, 3rd Feb 2018 at Marine Parade CC, followed by Duryodhanavadham on Sunday, 4th Feb 2018 at the same venue. Vocals in the melodious voices of Pathiyoor Sankarankutty and Kalamandalam Krishnakumar flowed smoothly and soothingly. They were tirelessly supported on the Chenda by Kalamandalam Krishnadas and Maddalam by Kalanilayam Manoj.

The vibrant and colourful make-up of the artists, which took 3 to 4 hours on each day and is applied while the artists lie prone on the ground, deserves a very special mention. A look at the accompanying pictures is proof of the make-up artists’ skills. ‘Chitti’ and make-up was done by Eroor Manoj, Kalanilayam Sami and Panmana Arun.

As seen in Kathakali, the men were donning the  women characters in both the performances.

Karnasapadham, written by V Madhavan Nair (Mali), opened with Duryodhana (Ettumanoor P Kannan) and his wife Bhanumati (Kalamandalam Shanmukhadas) conversing regarding her worry, about the impending Mahabharata war and its consequences. The ‘Thiranokku’s’ – a ritual which marks the entry of powerful but flawed characters – did create an impact. Karna who is Duryodhana’s brave and gallant ally then enters the stage and attempts to console Bhanumati.

Dussasana’s entry, especially with his vivid make-up and white whisker-like feline-looking face mask, was striking.

Karna’s disturbed mind was hauntingly portrayed with accompanying soulful music and lyrics. The interaction with the audience, by having Kunti walk in through the mid-tier aisle, before slowly gliding down the steps to the stage for her encounter with her first-born son Karna, was a good touch.

Kunti‘s revelation about Karna’s birth is a story most of you must be familiar with. Karna’s promise that she will always have 5 sons forms the crux of the Karnasapadham. He promises to not kill any of his 4 brothers other than Arjuna. He also promises Duryodhana that he will abandon his mother and brothers, for he values his friendship more than his new-found family.

Along with innumerable eye and hand movements which are by far too many to mention, there were many other expressions conveyed by the highly skilled artists. For instance, the goosebumps expressed by Kunti, through shivers, when Karna calls her “Mother’ for the first time. And the childlike joy in Karna’s delightful movements, when Kunti gives him a maternal kiss on his cheek, deserve special mention.

Duryodhanavadham written by Vayaskara Aryan Narayanan Moos, started with mellifluous conversations between Draupadi and Krishna. The singing duo were outstanding, as were the strong instruments played with a light hand.

Gopi Ashaan as Krishna was magnificently made-up and dressed in ‘Pitambaram’ – that beautiful shade of yellow-gold that identifies Lord Krishna. Peacock feather like headgear and indigo blue sleeves added to the grandeur.

Ettumanoor P Kannan as Duryodhana made a grand entry. His arrogant dismissal of Krishna’s pleas and refusal to give even as much as a pin-point worth of land to the Pandavas, was grandly presented, with the music aptly reaching a crescendo at that point.

Krishna’s revelation of his divine form as Lord Vishnu, when the two Kaurava princes try to tie him up, was ably presented in the same scene, with some deft movement of props on stage.

Roudrabheema ( Kalamandalam Shanmukhadas), a character liked by many in the audience, then made his grand entry. He searches for evil Dussasana. Again the entry of Dussasana with his grand costume, through the mid tier aisle and down the steps through the spectators, was a moment of high audience interaction.

When Bheema spots Dussasana in the crowd and jumps down from the stage to tussle with him in front of the front row seats, it created a visible stir among the audience.

Roudrabheema tearing apart a bloodied Dusasana( Kalamandalam Neeraj) and pulling out his innards was artfully depicted. The interaction between Draupadi (Margi Vijayakumar) and Bheema when he finally ties her long-open tresses with his blood soaked hands, was humorously depicted, providing a much needed light touch after the gory battle scene.

Krishna was ably portrayed by Singaporean artist and the only lady in the male bastion, Ms. Vinaya Menon, in the second act. Filling the large boots of a character played by Gopi Ashaan himself, must have been an honour as well as daunting. Vinaya stood up to the task and gave a performance befitting a seasoned artist.

On both days, the performances ended with Dhanasi, a ritualistic dance to thank the Gods, performed as a ‘kalasam’ by the artists. The performers received a well-deserved standing ovation from the packed crowd of about 240 people on both the days.

It was indeed a privilege to watch such a world class performance in Singapore, miles away from God’s own country, Kerala. To rephrase what HE Jawed Ashraf aptly said, words could not express the rapt, intense pleasure experienced at the end of each magnificent performance, it called for silent absorption and loud applause. I’m sure the feedback forms from the audience will resonate with high praise as well as requests for more such rich traditional art forms to be performed here. Congratulations are due for the sold-out performances on both days, to the Mudra Cultural Society under the able leadership of Suresh Panicker.