We, the students of Amrita School of Engineering(Amritapuri) have a group called SFIH(Students Forum for Indian Heritage). The group works on preserving and exploring the excellence of the Indian heritage and culture. The group organises different trips to places in India, which are rich in ancient and history but the people do not know of it. Apart from this, the group also organize weekly activities and speeches by famous people about the tradition of India. For those people who want to know about the Forum, the website is almost over. You can visit the site. I will mention it in one of my future posts.
The other day as a part of the events related to the forum, we went to Cochin. At Amrita, a Sanskrit course is being offered for those who want to learn the language in a month. There were people from seven nations who were learning Sanskrit. Along with them there were twenty Engineering students(among which I was one,. We went to Veliyanad, a place in Cochin, to see a performance by very experienced performers, of Kudiyattom. They were to enact a scene from Ramayana – Balivadhom.
Kudiyattom is one of the four art-forms of Kerala(India), the others being Kathakali, Krishnanattom and Mohiniyattom. It is believed to be 2000 years old. The art-form had its origin in the 17th century. ‘Kudi’ means together and ‘attom’ means perform. The word means performing in front of a group. They usually enact parts of the Ramayana or Mahabharata or a Sanskrit Drama on the stage. The performance is accompanied by music.The instrument played is Mizhavu. Along with the Mizhavu we also have the kuzhithalam. The mizhavu is kept in Mizhavana, a wooden box. The art-form is usually performed by Chakyars and Nangyars(who play the musical instrument kuzhithalam). The makeup is very heavy and takes 2-3 hours to put on. They have different types of make-up for different characters. There is a green paint on the face of a noble character.
The performance was absolutely breathtaking. It usually lasts for an hour or so. My friends and I had not seen Kudiyattom before though we had heard of it and that too, when we had to study of Kerala History(which included the different art-forms of Kerala). In the art-form people perform in Sanskrit. It is not in the ordinary version of the language. They include intonation when they speak. The main reason that we were taken was because the play would be performed in Sanskrit and the foreigners who were learning Sanskrit would benefit from this. There are no words to describe the performance. In this art-form, the performers have to be a good speaker apart from being a good dancer. This is because between the performance the actors shout out the dialogues. These have to said in a specific tone with swaras. They are not just spoken. The mizhavu needs a lot of force and effort to play. It is a percussion instrument. There was perfect coordination between the musicians and the performers. For every movement of the hand there is a different beat. Were the musicians in front, they would have easily known when to change the beat. But the musicians sit at the back while the performers play in front of them. Thus, the musicians do not know when to change the beat. This comes only out of practice. In the performance that we saw, they did wonderfully well. The coordination was awesome.
As I mentioned earlier, the play was based on the killing of Bali (Balivadhom) from Ramayana. Bali and Sugreeva were two monkey brothers. Bali was the eldest and the king of the monkey kingdom. Once he went to the forests for penance, and never returned. Sugreeva, the younger brother thought that he was dead and took over as the king of the kingdom. But after sometime, Bali returned and to his great anger saw that Sugreeva was ruling in his place. He then started creating problems for Sugreeva.
That was when Lord Rama meets Sugreeva. Lord Rama was in the forest searching for Seeta who had been abducted by Ravana. On his way, the Lord sees Sugreeva and asks him what his problem was. Sugreeva narrates his story and Rama decides to help him. Sugreeva, confident that someone was ready to help him, challenges Bali for a fight. Had Rama decided not to help him, Sugreeva would probably never have gathered the courage to challenge Bali, because Bali was undoubtedly the stronger of the two. But he challenged him. During the battle Rama hid near by and struck an arrow at Bali. When Bali dies, he tries to find out from where the arrow came. With great difficulty he takes out the arrow from his chest and finds the name Rama inscribed on the end of the arrow. He then understands that it was Rama who shot the arrow. He asks Rama why he shot the arrow. He says that he had not done anything wrong to Rama and that they had not even met before. To this Rama gives an appropriate reply and there ends the play.
Coming to the performers, they were brilliant, absolutely mind blowing. The make up was such as to accentuate the expressions of the artists. The play was divided into three scenes -the first on was that of Rama and Laxmana meeting Sugreeva along with Hanuman. In the scene Sugreeva narrates to Rama what had happened between him and Bali. It is also in this scene that Rama decides to help him. The second scene was that of Sugreeva challenging his brother and Bali thinking about it. Bali thinks of it for a long time. He is angered by the fact that Sugreeva has challenged him to fight. His wife Tara asks him not to go. But Bali, being the typical male that he was, tells her that she does not know of his power. And he narrate two instances to show that he was a really strong monkey. In spite of Tara’s repeated requests, he does not pay heed to her and agrees to accept the challenge. In the third seen, the two brothers are found to be fighting and when Bali almost defeats Sugreeva, Rama shoots the arrow and Bali dies.
Among the performers, my favorite was The artist who played the role of Rama. Second best would be the one who enacted Bali. He had the longest role to play and some scenes required a great amount of effort and skill to be enacted. He did it in a wonderful manner. The performance lasted for about two hours. It was an unforgettable experience and I am so glad that I decided to go with them. Given a chance to watch Kudiyattom being performed again, I would gladly watch it.