Padmabhushan Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

Dr. K.G. Paulose introduces the great Kerala playwright Kulasekhara in glowing terms as follows: - “…the outside world did not know that Ananda Vardhana had a strong champion in the distant southern most tip of Indian peninsula who applied the principle of Dhwani to theatre and paved the way for the survival of Natyasastra’s Prayogamarga”. Evidently this has reference to the ‘Vyangya Vyakhya’. The dominant characteristic of Vyangya Vyakhya is that it is the chronicle of how the text reaches the domain of performance. It can be construed as the forerunner of the later contributions of the chakyars of Kerala towards preservation of acting manuals like Attaprakaram and Kramadipika. The author enacting the different roles in his own texts postulates the significant philosophy of ‘swayam prekshaka’ which quality can be attributed to the Cosmic Dancer, Lord Siva, - the one having a dual quality of being an actor / creator as well as a creatively critical spectator. Mahendra Vikrama Varman, the author of Mattavilasa prahasana in the opening benediction qualifies ‘Kapaleswara’ as yah prekshakascha swayam. This rare quality is inherited only by rare poet-play wrights like Bhasa, Saktibhadra and Kulasekhara. Among these, Kulasekhara was successful in re-assessing his own creative work with a critical perspective and recreating the ‘dhwani patha’ (subtext) by supplementing the non-sound areas of the text with interpretative action. In the prayoga of Natyasastra, dhwani plays a pivotal role and Vyangya Vyakhya, no doubt is a great contribution to the evolution of theatre traditions of India. This coupled with Rasa provides the uniqueness of India’s contributions in performing arts in comparison with those of the west.


Abhinavagupta explains the word ‘Kavyartha’ as rasa, the making of which can be attributed to none other than the actor. The main function of the actor is the creation of arthakriya (refer to the dictum ‘Artha kriya karitvam bharatatvam’ expounded by Shri. Karthika Tirunal in his Balaramabharatam) for which rasa has to be expressed in a holistic manner through bhava (emotion). The Vachik, Satvik and Angik, all work in unison for cumulative output. Also the vibhava (excitant), anubhava (ensuant) work on a supportive level for the sprouting of the sthayibhava into rasa. Proper combination is essential for this evolution. The evolution which is contemplated in the Sanskrit theatre is based on journey from kriya to rasa, from the outer reality as discussed in the text to the deeper interior level. Kulsekhara had written two plays pregnant with inner meaning, Tapati Samvaranam and Subhadradhananjayam and substantiated his stand on the magical efficacy of dhwani and experienced himself how the mindscape of each character would reflect to detail the respective bhava in enactment.

When we come across a play like Subhadradhananjayam we feel the basic text as the emanant point dealing with story telling or narrative with characters of mundane nature and as such it is earthy and earthily with human feelings even when they belong to mythical or epic dimension. The growth of these characters and events from narrative level to higher areas of representational advancement is made possible through the eloquence that lies latent in the non-sound areas of the text which could provide the springboard for the para-textual areas of interpretations. What is stated in the text is attractive through the story point of view; but its eloquence works as the sprouting of a seed into a full-fledged tree with braches, foliages etc.

Vyangya Vyakhya liberates the actor from the rigour of the text and allows him to illustrate the sub-text through improvised acting (manodharma). The ‘Natankusa’ (a critique on this text also has been published by Dr. Paulose) on the other hand tries to provide a goad on the actor and prescribes manacle on the actor’s imagination. It is harsh in criticizing certain theatre practices in Kutiyattam on the basis that they go against the established tenets of the Natyasastra. The criticism leveled against Nirvahana (when a character is introduced detailed description is given about his earlier life) is legitimate to some extend on two reasons. One is that sense of propriety is prone to be lost. The other is the risk of losing the beauty of suggestion. Regarding the criticism that it is ridiculous for Hanuman in his costume to transform into the role of Sita in Anguliyamkam cannot be acceptable to the basic principle of transformation in natya. The technique of transformation or Pakarnattam can claim to have its roots in Yogasutra with a different connotation – ‘bandhakarana saidhilayat pracarasamvedanat ca, cittasya parasarirave’. (Through relaxation of the causes of bondage and the free flow of consciousness the Yogi enters another’s body at will) (*B.K.S Aiyankar – Light on the Yogasutras of Patanjali). These lines have relevance to the conscious impersonation of characters in the dynamics of theatre. This idea of transformation is an essential tool of expression even among the common people while they transact ideas with the help of language and the language assumes its spirit of representation by shift of emphasis from first person to others involved in the narration. The technique of transformation goes beyond one level i.e. from actor to character and reaches out to multiple levels of Sancharibhavas. In the ‘ekaharya’ (solo acting) of Hanuman crossing the ocean, he transforms into different characters whom he encounters like Mynakam, Chayagrahi, Surasa etc. Such transformation is not the creation of many levels of illusion; rather it would work as transitory emotions strengthening the sthayi-bhava.

From my experience in directing some major Sanskrit plays I felt that the text necessitates beyond doubt certain advanced situations which prompted the transformation of character which was to be carried on to further levels of emotional representation. One such situation from Bhasa’s Karnabharam may be pointed out in which Karna narrates to his charioteer Salyar while he is in the battle field of Kurukshetra, how he had learned the art of archery from Parasurama. If it is a mere textual narration, it would never bring in the dramatic potential involved in the text. The vyangya that lies latent in the text gave me sufficient courage to interpret forcefully, when the character Salyar emerges from within Karna himself as Parasurama. If I had not done that the whole narrative would have remained flat and prosaic without evoking any emotions. Karna was narrating to Parasurama a story which was possibly not unknown to Salyar or for that matter any compatriot of Karna. It can easily be believed that Karna was narrating the tale to himself rather than to Salyar. Hearing this Salyar used to ask ‘Tatastatah’, what happened then? Salyar was asking this question standing behind Karna and enacting as if he was emerging from within Karna. Salyar hearing the narration worked up his imagination to get transformed into the role of Parasurama and extended his creative support to Karna’s story telling. Finally when the narrative and the accompanying dual enactment were over Karna called out ‘Oh! Salyaraja’ and Salyar occupied the space behind Karna and returned to his persona. A clockwise movement by the actor for tying up into the role of Parasurama and an anti-clock wise movement for untying himself into the role of Salyar were employed and the technique was easily discernable and aesthetically acceptable to the audience. Karna’s ekaharya would also have been worthy to be tried out; but then the presence of Salyar demanded the inclusion of that character also in the production.

Is Vyangya Vyakhya a chronicle as elaborately codified as the later production manuals like the Attaprakaram and Kramadipika of chakyars? Is it meant as a performance score of the two texts of Kulasekhara, Subhadra dhanjayam and Tapti Samvaranam, treating them as the pretexts and developing into extensive visual rendering? Or is it more a literary elaboration layering on the semantic and semiotic details? On the Vachika aspect the elaboration based on the Vyangya Vyakhya essentially has to relate to the rhetoric and prosody which should go beyond the text like study of speech, sound patterns, alliterations, assonance, pitch, intonation, air thrust and the like. On the Angik the application of chari-s, karana-s, mudra-s etc would definitely lead the suggestions in the pre-text to artistic explorations. The concurrent function of Satvik leads the Vyangya Vyakhya towards the final evolution of Rasa.

Dr. Paulose strongly holds the view that Vyangya Vyakhya mode of acting of Sanskrit dramas is certainly not a break away from Natyasastra. He is also emphatic on one important point that there was no Kutiyattam at the time of Kulasekhara or even earlier. When he affirms that Kutiyattam came into existence one or two centuries after Kulasekhara, the chronological order of our artistic events and personages gets into confusion. He strongly holds on to the view that Thola who is described as the jester friend of Kulasekhara in a popular and oft quoted myth is “an imaginary figure”, it being “not supported by facts”. Ulloor in his Kerala Sahitya Charithram (Vol 1, published by Kerala University, Page 153-54) extensively deals with the contributions of Thola to the art of Kutiyattam. Ulloor here affirms the fact that Tholan, under the supervision of Kulasekhara had prepared two types of theatre manuals known as Aattaprakaram and Kramadeepika, consisting of detailed stage directions on costumes, gestures, stage design, etc. as well as the stage practices to be followed by the vidushaka. Ulloor admits that he had believed earlier that Kulasekhara was a contemporary of Adi Sankara. Later he changed his view fixing Kulasekhara to sometime between 10th and 11th centuries A.D, arguing that his time was only after the dhwani theory had established its sway, i.e. after 9th century A.D. The historicity of these views cannot be proved beyond doubt as they remain only at the realm of myths.

The accepted belief among scholars that Saktibhadra lived at the time of Sri Sankara (780-820 A.D) is refuted by Dr. Paulose who fixes him in the tenth Century A.D. If this is to be accepted the story that ‘Saktibhadra’ happened to meet Sri Sankara will have to be treated as an unbelievable legend. But no convincing reason is forthcoming to affirm the stand to place Saktibhadra in the 12th century, except the fact that Kulasekhara does not refer his name along with Mahendra Vikrama Varmen and Bodhayana. Substantive evidence in this regard has yet to be adduced. Legend has it that Saktibhadra happened to meet Sankaracharya and read out his ‘Ascharyachudamani’ text to him. It may be pointed out in this context that Ullur has categorically stated (Vol 5, Chapter 9 of his work on Sahityacharitram) that before Saktibhadra’s time there were only two Prahasana-s known to Kerala –Bodhayana’s Bhagavadajjukiyam and Mahendra Vikrama Varmen’s Mattavilasa. Let alone the confusion about the date, ‘Ascharyachudamani’ remains a unique work which offers creative challenges lying hidden in it and worthy to be explored in the light of the principles involved in the concept of Vyangya Vyakhya. Ofcourse ‘Ascharyachudamani’ as a text had never passed through an empirical process of interpretative analysis by its author as in the case of ‘Subhadradhananjayam’ and ‘Tapatisamvaranam’. The chakyars only at a later stage had been able to prescribe an experiential methodology for its enactment with visual impact.

S.S. Barlingay (‘A Modern Indian Aesthetics Theory’, Page. 24) while elaborating the definition of Abhinaya writes: “Abhinaya means something which is facial or bodily. No message can be transmitted between one individual and another or from the dramatist to the actors and then to spectators unless it is encoded in bodily and sound signs”. The signals involved in Abhinaya are essentially Angik and Vachik with added flavor of Satvik representation. Does Vyangya Vyakhya anticipate the stage devices and theatre practices as tools for bringing out the interpretation of dhwani? Does it propose employing techniques of decoding the pre-text and encoding it into sub-text or only making the commentary and explaining the context and meaning of the text? It can be gathered from the Vyangya Vyakhya that primary meaning of the text has to be presented through the four fold acting for the benefit of the common audience. But the suggested sense has to be communicated through movements of the eyes to the spectators. It is gain saying that bringing out the meaning (artha) involves artha kriya, transforming meaning into action also. The credit goes to the creative genius of the chakyars of Kerala for having discovered and introduced certain conventions and stage practices which had contributed a lot to the art of transformation in solo-acting.

In the present study, Dr. Paulose has dealt extensively, in the beginning chapter with a comparative analysis of Natya Sastra, Vyangya Vyakhya, Natankusha and Kutiyattam. It covers a wide spectrum of Indian performing arts in their conceptual variations of Margi and Desi. There are many common as well as uncommon features making each of the four topics, above mentioned important and relevant in its own sphere. The author rightly holds on to the profundity, clarity and social bearing of Natyasastra and compares its tenets with the Desi practices as evinced in its different levels of application. While reading his comments we are tempted to differently view how the Margi works in Desi, how Desi works in Margi, how they coincide and how they seem to be variant and variegated. Natankusha strictly holds the view that Kutiyattam goes against the prescriptions of Natyasastra. The author of the Vyangya Vyakhya studies enumerates his views which are six in number. The view that Kutiyattam is an actor’s theatre and it has developed “imaginative acting hinted by Bharata” seems to be a valid assessment. The multiple impersonation is accepted in Kutiyattam; but whether Bharata totally rejects this is to be examined in the light of how the enactment in ekaharya (solo) acting is to be carried out in the Rupaka variety, “Bhana”. The art of transformation cannot be avoided when one actor has to present the storytelling and it is to be imagined whether such representations would develop into the stage of multiple impersonation. The observation that Kutiyattam through Vidooshaka can “interact with contemporary life and voice its concerns is to be understood in relation to the practice that the chakyar actors had inherited from their predecessors. Parayoor Kootachakayyan, a forerunner of the chakyars was once enacting Kotticheytam, an except from Shilapatikaram in the presence of Cheran Senkuttuvan and his consort Venmal. The actor is said to have made a situational reference to the king and queen while describing the Arthanareeswara. This reference throws light on the impact of the contextual reference reflected in the art of storytelling. This method of enactment had its roots in the innovative technique of elaborative acting which would make the text a point of origination providing a causative thrust to indulge in embellishment and imagination. The fact that Vyangya Vyakhya emphasizes on the principle of liberation of the actor is supportive of this method of descriptive acting. At the same time the actor’s autonomy has to be assiduously curbed when it assumes the level of privileged license. There was the necessitation for such an acrimonious curb when the chakyar actors transcended their legitimate domain. Dr. Paulose by selecting Vyangya Vyakhya now and Natankusam earlier for his elaborate critique has been able to project an extremely sensitive problem related to the know-how of Indian histrionics. This especially is to be viewed as inevitable at a time when Indian theatre is facing a crisis of identity and groping in the dark to relate to its national character. Dr. Paulose’s untiring efforts in creating awareness of our tradition and its immense potential deserve all encomium. His clarity of vision and liveliness in analysis are well mooted and well intentioned. I wish that his work on Vyangya Vyakhya will be made a guide by all practitioners of performing arts especially theatre people who nurture belief in the Indianness in Indian performing arts.

Kudos to his meaningful attempt which opens up avenues towards the enrichment of Indian theatre.

Kavalam Narayana Panikkar                                 08.08.2012

Sopanam, Trivandrum- 32