The history of vedic studies is closely related to the migration of Brahmins to the state. Legendary accounts tell us that Parasurama brought them here. Anyhow, the migrations took place at different phases. Of them two are important, the first during Sangama period (3 c. BCE.) and the second during the rule of Kadamba dynasty established by Mayuravarman (4c. CE). By the fall of the central administration of the Cheras (11 c. CE) the Brahmin settlers became powerful. The agamic worship flourished. Everything came to be centered round the village temple. The Nambutiris, expanded their influence by forming a grand alliance with the kings and with the lower strata by way of marital relations.1 By 13th, 14th centuries they came to be accepted as the overlords not only of the spiritual world but also of the temporal. Their penetration into the cultural field providing an all round sanskritisation2, had far reaching consequences. In short, the Kerala Brahmins though numerically small, became like their legendary ancestor Parasurama, well-versed both in śastra and śāstra and the land came to be called Brahmaks.atra.3 The intrusion of Portuguese posed a challenge, but the British regime compromised with them. By the beginning of the last century they began to loose their grip mainly due to political reasons. The land reforms brought an end to their feudatory rights. It can be seen that Kerala Brahmins presided over the destinies of Kerala for the past ten hundred years.
Distribution of Different Branches
There is an interesting scene described in the stage manual of Bhagavadajjuka4 (13 c. CE) where in the jester enquires the details regarding a person who is dead, 18 Vedic Studies in Kerala in order to ascertain the funeral rites to be performed. These are the words of theharacter.
“To which caraṇa does the deceased belong-either to Ṛgveda, Yajurveda or Sāmaveda ? There are twenty one branches for Ṛgveda.Two of them are famous- Pakazhiyas and Kauśītaka. Among the hundred and one śākhas of Yajurveda that of Bodhāyana andVādhūlaka are important. Sāmavedins are spread in a thousand branches of which talavakāras and chāndogas alone are countable. Oh ! dead man is a Ṛgvedin ; then whether an ekāgni or a tretāgni ?
Yes, he is a tretāgni. Then the funeral rites prescribed for a tretāgni has to be observed”
We have to note three things in this description :
i Only the trayī-the three Vedas of Ṛg, Yajur and Sāma was popular in Kerala. Atharva had no takers here.5 The description given here closely corroborates the account of the distribution of vedic Brahmins enumerated by Burnel.
According to him, the Atharva was not accepted by Kerala Brahmins. Majority of them (80%) belonged to the R. gveda following Kausītakī recension which is extinct anywhere else. 19% of the Kerala Brahmins follow Yajurveda ; there too 90% are adherents of Bodhāyana school, the rest belongs to Vādhūlaka. There is only a small number for Sāmaveda - 01%.
ii Each sect had maintained their separate identity. The rites and ceremonies for them are well defined and no violation is tolerated. Though loosely denoted by a common name each of them were particular to maintain their ancestral lineage which they inherited before migrating to this land.
iii This manual gives us a picture of the process of sanskritisation that took place during that period. Art, especially the visual art was the major instrument for the kind of enculturation they wished to attain.
It has to be borne in mind here that all the Brahmins were not vaidikas - there were others who did not study the Vedas. They were called ottillāttor.
According to a rough estimate, 35% of R. gvedins, 50% of Yajurvedins and 8% of Sāmavedins belonged to this group.
The Tradition of Yajña
Kerala is the home of Advaita and hence one would naturally expect the people to be the followers of jñānakāṇḍa. But paradoxically, both jñāna and karma co-existed here, the latter having upper hand at times. The Mīmāmsā tradition is traced to Prabhākaraguru. The Payyūr Bhaṭṭas were the most vocal exponents of the system in later period.
The first ever recorded reference to a sacrifice in this area belongs to the Sangham age.6 The Akanānūru (2c.B.CE) tells us of a sacrifice at Taliparambu (Cellūr) conducted by the legendary Parasurama. There are other references to sacrifices in Sangham works, though Cilapatikaram is silent of this tradition.
It is believed that the yajna tradition of Kerala traces its origin to Mezhathol Agnihotri7, one of the twelve sons of Vararuci. Whatever be the historicity of the account, the story itself is illuminating as it preaches universal brotherhood of all kinds of people - the Parayan, Pānan, Peruntaccan and others - tracing their origin to the same womb. This sense of co-existence is the most important contribution of vedic culture to Kerala. We have a beautiful description of the Cokiram village in the Unniccirutevicaritam which very well gives an idea of the influence of yaga in the early village life of Kerala in the 13th century.
The village is compared to a lotus flower arising from the naval of Vis.n. u. AḻvāncheryTamprākkal is equated to Brahma who resides in the lotus ; the eight adhyaghras form its petals. The other Brahmin families are its sepals, Brahmins being bees that hover around the flower. The chanting of Vedas is compared to the humming of bees and the knowledge to the honey.8
Nārāyana in his Dīpaprabhā commentary on Mahābhāṣyapradīpa refers to this land as one where the preceptors are well versed in Vedas. The Rājasūyaprabandha of Melputtūr, perhaps for the first time, gives a detailed description of the sacrifice performed by Yudhis.t.hira, giving first-hand information regarding the conduct of sacrifices in Kerala.
It is interesting to note in this connection that the 7th century social satire Mattavilāsa humorously compared the Yajñasālā to a toddy shop and the Manager to Yajamana and the like. This play had to pay a heavy price for this sacrilege in the post-sanskritised age. The Kūṭiyāṭṭam stage retained only the first two verses of this farce and left the rest to oblivion. Cultural monopoly is a drawback of the kind of enculturation propounded by the vaidikas. All
the different views were wiped out. Heterodox thoughts like Buddhism and Jainism which had deep roots here had either to surrender or to submit for alterations.
There were śālās attached to every temple where in two kinds of instructions were imparted – one on vedic and puranic literature and the other on military warfare. There were sabhāmaṭhams for each grāma and provisions were made by the kings/chieftains for the maintenance of these institutions. Thus the purity of vedic tradition was ensured by the instructions imparted to Brahmin students through the traditional method. The Brahmasvam maṭham at Trichur and Tirunāvāya still keeps up this tradition alive. The products of these institutions retain the best in the tradition. Those trained in śastra, perhaps, did not care for such simplicity. Being engaged in warfare and endowed with power their descendants led a loose life. This led to the later degeneration to a section of Brahmin community. The reference in Keraḻābharana seems to be aimed at these people. One of the positive contributions of these people, apart from the maintenance of the defence of the country seems to be the art form Sanghakaḻi which is almost extinct now.
Art And Literature
As the Vedas were transmitted orally without reference to their meaning, the preceptors did not think it necessary to record anything regarding this tradition. The two works on vedic literature of some importance are commentary on Aitareya Brahman a by Sadguru śiṣya, and Sukhada comm. on Kausītakī composed by Udayana. Thus the direct influence of vedic studies on literature is meagre. But it exerted a deeper imprint indirectly over all the art forms, especially the theatre. Nātyasāstra is considered to be the fifth Veda. The cākyārs, the traditional actors of Kerala considered the performance of Sanskrit dramas in Kuṭiyāṭṭam as an act dedicated to the diety. Nāt.ya is yajña.9
“The place where Nātyaprayoga takes place is called sadas and the stage is called vedika and vahni is employed for its protection. The preliminaries with homa offered and the import of the last line of nāndi quoted in the vth lesson of NS where the word `ijya' is used, are yet another indication that the original theoretical enquiry into the nature of theatre given the shape of a myth of its birth took place while the vedic yajña was the central and pivotal notion of life not only in the sphere of religion par excellence but also in other spheres of intellectual endeavor. Therefore, we cannot proceed further in our attempt to delineate the cultural context of nāṭyaprayoga without grasping the essence of the vedic world view”.
This cultural context of the vedic world view made the performance of Kuṭiyāṭṭam, a kind of sacrifice performed in the Kūttampalam. Everything in it, beginning from lighting of the lamp to the final sālādahana has the attribute of a yajña. It will not be an exaggeration if we are to assert that the only remaining relic of Sanskrit theatre is preserved in Kerala due to the special affinity it came to be acquired in the cultural context to the vedic tradition. And preservation of the theatre is perhaps the greatest contribution of the vedic tradition in Kerala. Even in its formal structure, the vedic mudras have influenced those of Kut.iyat.t.am and needless to repeat, the accentual affinity of vedic recitation and cākyār’s words are too well known.10
There were two important events which had a special bearing on Kerala’s vedic tradition in the 20th century. One is the Atirātra held at Panjal in 1975 at the initiative of a team of foreign enthusiasts led by Prof. J.F. Stall. It has given a new impetus to vedic studies in a global setting. Moreover, publication of the two volumes of AGNI is a monumental contribution to the world of knowledge. The second, and perhaps more important, is the rendering of Ṛgveda in Malayalam language. Till now, Vedic studies were confined to a minority ; rendering in the local language has made it a treasure of all humanity. The meaning also came to be important along with the chanting. A literal translation in verse of Ṛgveda was first done by Mahakavi Vallathol in the fifties. In the 80’s the sage-like O.M.C Narayanan Nambudiripad brought out the entire R. gveda with Sayan. a’s commentary in eight volumes in Malayalam. He has also pioneered an ambitious project for starting a correspondence course in Veda, which has borne fruit in the form of publication of sixty lessons.
In the meanwhile several learned articles have come out on various aspects of vedic literature. Some of them concentrate on the poetic beauty of the vedic mantras. There are yet others which attempt to interpret the hymns in its socio-economic setting, departing from the traditionally accepted religious views.
The vedic stream of knowledge did not stand isolated from the general stream, instead got merged to the renaissance movement.
Vedic studies hitherto, was confined to exclusive centres of traditional training in Trichur, Tirunāvāya, Irinjalakuda etc., and competitions held in the `anyonyam' at temples like Kat.avallur offered opportunities to young students to exhibit their scholarship.
It was in 1997 that vedic studies was incorporated, for the first time, to the university system in Kerala. The Sanskrit University founded at Kalady in the name of Sankaracarya was in its infant stage at that time. I was serving as its first Registrar. The circumstances that led to the establishment of a new school for vedic studies were quite accidental. Once during a meeting in the Sahitya Akademi, Trissur, Sri Killimangalam Vasudevan Nambudiri and Sri L.S Rajagopal were with me. During our discussions, they brought to my notice the pitiable state of the Samaveda tradition of Kerala.
The chanting of Samaveda was preserved for centuries in Kerala practiced by certain renowned Nambudiri families. The members of these families dedicated their life for the teaching and reciting of Samaveda. There were 21 families in which sāma was taught in a traditional way. Among this only five families at Panjal preserves this tradition now. Only five scholars, all aged, the senior most at 92, have the knowledge of chanting sāma in its pristine purity.11
The chanting of Sama has much importance in vedic sacrifices. The Udgātā recites sāma hymn in a musical way. The pitch stress and intonation of sāma recitation in sacrifices have attracted the attention of musicologists all over the world. This hoary oral tradition is at the verge of extinction. It will disappear along with these pandits and, unless preserved, will be lost for ever to humanity.12
The fact and their passion moved me. Coming back to the university I discussed the matter with the Vice-Chancellor Dr. N. P Unni and all concerned and with their blessings established a new school for vedic studies for the preservation of sāma chanting.13 The school took up the challenge and with the support of the traditional sāma scholars completed the work of faithfully preserving the entire recital. The recording of ārcika, grāmageya and candrasāma extending to seventy hours was completed in the first phase. The recording of 29 sāmastutis used in atirātra and 12 used in somayāga that are chanted in the ūha and ūsān. i style in 25 hours was completed in the second phase. The entire tradition of sāma chanting is now documented in audio and video CD’s of 95 hours. They are available for academic studies. The school of vedic studies extended further its scope by conducting seminars, short term courses, public lectures and workshops on various topics connected with the Vedas all over the state. Their untiring efforts have inspired other vedic institutions and they too became active during the last decade. This has generated a vast literature widening the knowledge-base of Vedas and has provided a public space for it among the intellectual and academic community.14
The Puthucode Tradition
The recording of the sama chanting was held in Lakshmiswayamvara temple at Panjal. While returning after the inaugural function, Sri. L.S Rajagopal told me that a more important work remains to be done. He was referring to the chanting of Sama in the Kauthūma recension in the old Tanjavur Style preserved in the village of Puthucode in the Palakkad district of the state. Followers of this branch are predominantly settled in Tanjavur district of Tamilnadu. Some families from Tanjavur migrated to Palakkad some four 24
Vedic Studies in Kerala hundred years ago invited by the King. The circumstances that led to this migration according to legendary accounts are like this: Before accession by the British, Palakkad was ruled by a dynasty of Sekharavarmans. One king, while touring for inspection in disguise along the foot of the mountains happened to see a beautiful woman belonging to a low-caste nāyāt.i community. According to the then prevailing caste hierarchy, nāyāt.is were not only untouchable, but unseable by people belonging to higher caste. The King, however, was infatuated by her beauty. He concealed his feeling. His able minister seeing him dejected and disinterested realized that something has gone wrong. Being repeatedly asked by the minister, the king opened his mind. The minister pacified the king. After some days, the minister told the king that he has arranged a meeting with her in a hunting lodge in the foothills. There were two conditions: no light would be provided in the room and he should not ask anything to the woman. The king agreed and, as was arranged, spent the night there. Next day, as usual, he took his bath and started to the temple. The practice was that before occupying the throne the king should go into the temple and receive the prasādam from the priest. This day he hesitated to step into the temple. He had a prick of conscious since he had been polluted by the union of an untouchable. The minister intervened, brought his queen and informed the king that it was his lawful wife who spent the night with him yesterday. The king was convinced but not relieved of his sense of guilt.
manahkrtam krtam kāryam na śarīrakrtam krtam
yathaivālingyate kāntā tathaivālingyate sutā.
It is the mind, not the body, that commits sin. One embraces his wife the same way does he embrace his daughter. The mental condition makes the difference.
Yesterday while cohabiting it was the nāyāt.i woman in his mind, not his queen. Hence he cannot escape from his sin. That was his argument. His high sense of morality is revealed here.
The king received the prasādam without entering the temple. He came to the throne. His priests who were all Nambudiri Brahmins opposed his conduct. The king did not heed to their advice. In a fury, all the Brahmins left his kingdom. There was a big vaccum. None is there to perform the religious rites ! The Minister informed the king that he would bring greater Brahmin scholars, to replace the Nambudiris. He, thus, brought Brahmins from Tanjavur and settled them in Palakkad. The king gave them tax-free property and made one of them his minister.
The first agrahāra was known in the name of the king, Sekharīpuram. Migrations from Tanjavur continued. First came Yajurvedins then Smārtas followed bysāmavedins. There were eighteen settlements in the beginning, then it increased gradually to ninety two. Puthucode became one of the important settlements.
The village prospered around the Annapūrneswari temple. This is the story of migration of Brahmin’s to Puthucode some four hundred years ago. During this, period, many changes took place in Tanjavur, their original home. The Marātta kings who ruled the territory brought several scholars from Pune. These scholars introduced a different, more simpler method of chanting for
Sāmaveda. It was codified by Ramanatha Sastrigal who came from Maharashtra.
Ramanatha Sastrigal was endearingly known as Rāma, among his friends. Hence the style introduced by him came to be known as Rāmanna pāṭham. This style soon became very popular due to the royal patronage extended to it. The pāṭhaśalās were encouraged and students learning this style were attracted by extending liberal scholarships. In course of time, the original Tanjavur style faded into oblivion. It was completely washed away from Tanjavur. What remains as sāma chanting is the new style of Rāmanna. The only person who knew the prācīna style was Pandit V. Rama Sastri in the village of Ayakkuti in Shenkottah. He studied Sāmaveda from his father in the traditional way. He also knew the new style of chanting but uses only the old style in his native village. Rama Sastri was 72 years old when Sri. L.S Rajagopal visited him in 1986 to record his chanting.
The destiny to preserve the old style of Sāma chanting fell on Puthucode. The Brahmin settlement around the Annapūrn. eswari temple did not know the transformation going on in Tanjavur. They continued to foster their tradition. They preserved the original style of chanting which their forefathers brought from Tanjavur. The change brought out by the Maratti rulers after 150 years of their departure from their hometown did not affect them.
Puthucode flourished as a centre of Sanskrit learning producing many scholars in Sanskrit and vedic studies. In the beginning of the last century Puthucode Sundara Iyer, who retired as a judge of the Madras Hight court extended all help to promote the traditional studies. He founded a Sanskrit college there which worked well for some time. The second quarter of the last century saw a decline in all fields. Number of students opting for Sanskrit or vedic studies came down
heavily. The college could not withstand the onslaught of time.
The only one who knows the sāma chanting is Sri. P.K. Gopalan Vādhyār, well versed in gr.hya ritual chants. The original Tanjavur tradition of sāma chanting (prācīna) survives only through him.
Before long, I got an opportunity to address a Sanskrit conference in the Puthucode village organized by the Bharatiya Vidyabhavan. I used the occasion to inspire the audience by narrating their cultural background. The entire village was virtually shocked ! They could not believe that they are the inheritors of such a great tradition and the vādhyār whom they considered only an old priest as the sole repository of a great tradition. We discussed the methods to preserve this
tradition. All the villagers were unanimous and enthusiastic.
Soon they started a vedic class to train students. Due to their enthusiasm five students came forward to study under Gopala Vadhyar, four full time and an employee as part-time. They paid a monthly honorarium to Vadhyar and honoured him with an award in the next year. The villagers raised funds to record the entire chanting that Gopalavadhyar could do. Thus the prācīna style of Kaūthuma sāma was also saved from extinction.
I have often wondered as to how destiny made me its tool in achieving two of its great missions-namely preserving for posterity the Jaiminīya sama chanting of Kerala and the Kauthūma, Pracīna style, sāma chanting of Thanjavur. The thought makes me more humble.
Notes and References
Ramachandra Makhin, the 17th century author of Keraḻābharaṇa, states that ‘the people of Kerala never do care for erecting platforms for sacrifices nor do they practice chanting of vedic hymns; sledom do they observe any religious rites, the sacred vaṣaṭkāra does not sanctify the atmosphere. Their hearts find pleasure only in embracing beautiful women.
naivāsti vediracanā na ca homamantram
dīksāvidhirna ca vasatkrtayo na vāpi,
samirambhalagnahrdayāh khalu keralīyāh. 204
This paper intends to show that the author was thoroughly mistaken in understanding the people of Kerala and their tradition and that his findings are unfounded.
1. History of Nambudiri community in Kerala, M.G. S Narayanan and Kesavan Veluthattu AGNI Vol II.PP 172-173 ;Frists Stall, Asian Humanities Press Berklley.
2. The term ‘Sanskritisation was introduced in 1952 by M. N. Srinivas in his book Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India (Oxford, 1952). The term is not defined, but is used to mean a process by which a lower caste attempts to raise its status and to raise to a higher position in the caste hierarchy. Sanskritisation may take place through adoption of vegeterianism, of teetotalism, of worship of sanskristic deities or by engaging the service of Brahmanas for ritual purposes. Its essential ingredient is the imitation of behavior and beliefs associated with ritualy high status groups.’ J. F. Stall, The journal of Asian Studies Vol 22, No.3 (May 1963) PP261-275
3. brahmakṣatro jayati vipulo bhūpradeśo mahānto
yatrācāryāh śrutiṣu niratāh śaṅkarādyāḥ babhūvuḥ
4. Bhagavadajjuka on Kutiyattam stage, K.G. Paulose, New Bharatiya Book Corporation, Delhi-2000.
5. Kerala is renowned for its Ayurvedic treatment. It seems strange that Atharva did not have a tradition here.
6. Kutiyattam Theatre- the Earliest Living Tradition, K.G. Paulose D.C Books Kottayam 2006.
7. mezhattolagnihotrī rajakanuḻiyanurttaccanum pinne vaḻḻon
vayillākkunnilappan vaṭutala maruvum nāyar kārakkal mātā
an periyatiruvaran gathe.lum pānanārum
nere nārāyaṇabhrānthanumakavūr cāthanum pākkanārum
8. āl.vancherry viri~nca sanādhan
vedadhvaniyām ghanka –
ḻevā cila vidvadvijamadhuvairatirūòham
nābhiyil malarum nalinam pole…
9. Nāṭya and yajña, Cristopher Byrski, Govt Sanskrit college Tripunithura-1995
10. Notes on comparison of Vedic Mudras used in Kutiyattam and Kathakali. Clifford Jones-AGNI. Vedic Studies in Kerala
11. There were,then only five traditional scholars in Samaveda
i Vasudevan Namboothiri of Perumangattu Mana
ii Aryan Namboothiri of Thottam Mana
iii Narayanan Namboothiri of Thottam Mana
iv Neelakanthan Namboothiri of Nellikkattu Mana
v Vasudevan Namboodiri of Nellikattu Mana.
12. There were several attempts in the past to record Sāmaveda. Some of them are listed below:
i Recording of sāma recital was first attempted by JF Stall in 1971. A copy of it is available with
Sri. M. Subramonian Namboodiri, Muttathukattil Mana. The recording was done in ordinary
spool tape recorder in old 4-track recording system. Hence it is not in a good condition now.
No reproduction is possible.
ii Dr. E. R Sreekrishna Sarma did an audio recording for the portion except ūha and ūs.ān. i.
iii Audio recording incorporating these points also was done at A.I.R Calicut, some time back.
iv Tirupathy Devasthanam has recorded all sāma recitals in audio tapes except ūha and ūs.ān. i.
v Prof. Gune from Denmark and Dr. K Krishna Das from Trivandrum have also taken audio
records of sāma recital.
13. Dr. C. M Neelakandhan of the faculty of Sanskrit Sahitya was given the charge of the new school. By his enthusiastic efforts the school could mark its imprints on our social and cultural life. He continues to hold the position.The school has started post graduate courses now.
14. Some of the important publications on Vedic Studies during the period are given below:
Works edited in English by Dr. C. M Neelakandhan and K. A. Ravindran
i Veda, society and Modernity, Panchangam Pustakasala, Kunnamkulam, 2007.
ii Vedic Texts and the Knowledge systems of India, Department of Vedic Studies, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, 2010.
iii Preservation Techniques of the Rgveda chanting of Kerala, Dept of Vedic Studies, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, 2010
Works in Malayalam
iv Vedakiraṇaṅgal, C. M Neelakandhan, Paleli Narayanan Nambudiri,1995
v Ṛgveda Paryaṭanam, C. N Parameswaran, 2003
vi Srutisaurabham, C. M Neelakandhan, 2005
vii Vedaṅgaḻum Śramaṇapāramparyavum. Seminar Proceeds, 2007
viii Ṛgvedabhūmika, P.V Ramankutty, 2007
ix Sāmavedadarpaṇam, K.A Ravindran, 2007
x Adharvavedālokam, Palanatu Vasudevan, 2007
xi Vaidikam, N.V.P Unnithiri, 2007
xii Vedavaṅmayam, Seminar Proceeds, 2007
xiii Vedavicāram, Ed C.M Neelakandhan, 2008
xiv Yajurvedasamhita, P.V Ramankutty, 2008
xv Vedadīpikā, P.V Ramankutty, 2008
xvi Vaidikavijñanam, Seminar Proceeds, 2008
xvii Vedapāṭhasamraksaṇam, N.V.P Unnithiri, 2008
xviii Vedangaḻum dārsanika Paramparyavum, Seminar Proceeds, 2009
xix Kalpam- Oru Samagravedāngam, C R Subhadra, 2009
xx Vedavīcikal, Ed. P. M Damodaran, 2009
xxi Vedasannidhiyil, Pazhedathu Narayanan Nambudiri, 2009
xxii Araṇyakangalku oru amukham, P.V Ramankutty, 2010
xxiii Ars.apramāṇangal, Ed. Vatakkumbattu Narayanan, 2010
xxiv Vedangaḻum Putuvāyanakaḻum, Seminar proceeds, 2010
The list is not exhaustive, veterens like Erkkara Raman Nambudiri, V. K Narayanan Bhattathiri, Vedabandhu and Acharya Narendrabhusan have enriched the vedic literature with their valuable contributions.
15. An American Scholar Wayne Howard travelled all over India to collect information regarding vedic chanting and published his research on sāma chanting from Yale University in 1977. When it came out, Sri. L.S Rajagopal brought to the notice of the author that details regarding the Puthucode chanting is not included in the book. He sent some tapes recording the chanting of Sri Gopala Vadhyar. Sri. Wayane Howard was surprised to note it. He said “ This is the most significant mode of chanting form the musical point of view” He along with Sri Rajagopal prepared two research papers (The Prācīna kautūmasāmaveda of Palakkad, in the journal of Indian Musicological society-1989 and Pracīna kautūma Tradition in South India-Letters from 1985-1988 published in the commemoration volume to Prof. Parpola on his sixteenth birth day in Helsinki-2000) and invited the attention of the world of vedic scholars to Puthucode. Puthucode thus became imprinted in the history of vedic tradition with Gopala Vadhyar as the sole inheritor.
Dr. K.G. Paulose
Violence means the state or quality of being violent; rage, tumult, turbulence, intensity of action or question, vehemence, assault, rape or injury. Unruliness and wildness qualify violent behavior.
I. Bharata’s stand
Hero’s of Sanskrit dramas generally belong to the category of Dhirodatta. Primary sentiment is Vira or Srngara. So there is no space for violence directly in Sanskrit theatre. More over, Bharata strictly prohibits the presentation of death, war etc. on the stage. They are only to be hinted or verbally narrated.
But delineation of Raudra rasa gives scope for presentation of violence on stage. Natyasastra says that the sentiment of Raudra is produced by actions like the excitement in battles, striking, disfiguring, cutting and tearing. This is to be enacted in dramas through imitative actions like the discharge of various missiles and weapons, cutting of head, headless trunks and arms and so on. Thus the sentiment of Raudra is seen as produced by fierce words, actions of limbs etc. and full of terrible activities like the wielding of weapons and cruel actions.
According to Abhinava gupta violation of the modesty of women is one of the ensuants to rouse raudra1. Raudra pertains to Rakshasas, Danavas and Udhata characters.
In forms like Samavakara there is scope for violence, but they are not common. In serious plays Venisamhara depicts war and revenge on the stage. It is allowed as Bhima, a Dhiroddhata hero, is the leading character in the play. But still Bharata’s prohibition does not permit presentation of violence in a provocative way.
Kutiyattam is an autonomous form developed in Kerala for the presentation of Sanskrit dramas. It is the only theatrical tradition that preserves the earliest
performance techniques of Natyasastra and is declared the intantangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO.
11th Century royal dramatist Kulasekhara wrote two dramas - Subhadradhananjaya and Tapati samvarana. He called together all his friends, scholars and actors and told them that there is a new device called dhvani in poetry and that he would like to employ it in theatre.
Sasteti procyate budhaih
Tasmat dhwaniyukta sa
He then demonstrated how to present it and taught his actors. A scholar noted down the mode of acting presented by the author. This stage-script is known as Vyangyavyakhya, the first stage manual by he author himself 2.
The mode of acting prescribed for Bhiksham Datta in the introductory part of Dhananjaya illustrates the idea of Kulasekhara. According to him the feminine
gender in Bhiksha suggests the entire theme.
Interestingly Kulasekhara divides the audience into two- the elite and the ordinary. Bharata’s presentation can be all right for the common man, the scholar requires more. Dhwani is for the scholar. The actor enacts it through eyes. (Netrabhinaya)
This innovative move raises several problems on the stage.
i. The actor does not have a text for suggestive sense. He can go on with his elaboration endlessly. This paves the way for imaginative acting.
ii. During narration the actor will have to transform his imitated role to several other roles. This is the technique of pakarnnattam. This encourages mono
acting (solo) in a multi-charactered drama. The net result of all these was that the actor was liberated from the text of the dramatist. Kutiyattam thus became an actor’s theatre. Imaginative acting and transformation of roles are the two contributions Kerala has made to Sanskrit theatre. To Bharata the actor was an imitator anukarta; Kerala added two more functions as narrator (Akhyata) and interpreter (Vyakhyata). Kutiyattam, thus is an improvisation on Bharata’s theatre.
Violence presented in Kutiyattam stage can be classified under the following heads;
i. Exoneration of anti-hero
Kerala theatre does not strictly follow the tradition of Natyasastra in the matter of presentation of Violence. One reason is the tendency of Kerala Theater to extol the glory of the anti heros. Bhasa, not Bharata influenced the Kerala psyche in this matter. Anti-heros like Bali, Ravana, Karna etc. occupy the central stage in classical forms. Real hero’s like Srikrishna, Srirama or Dharmaputra are pale and they have only minor roles. This gives lot of space for the enactment of violent actions on the stage.
Many of the popular plays in Kutiyattam like Balivadha ends in the death of the leading character. Kerala has employed a clever device to transform death to salvation-vadha to moksha. Putana dies but attains moksha. Hence the story is Putanamoksha.
The preference to prati-nayakas provides ample opportunity for the actor to indulge in provocative action like calling for war, engage in duels or fight and killing on the stage.
ii. Towards women
Disrobing Panchali is a favorite theme in many performances. This is enacted to incite the sense of revenge in the mind of the hero, especially in Bhima. Recently
the story of Draupadi is dramatically presented in Nangiarkuttu by Usha Nangiar in three parts where in the second part centers on the incident of vastrakshepa.
The scene depicts the helpless ness of women before the cruelty of power. Even her husbands fail to uphold her modesty. All the wisdom of the learned and others
become futile before the arrogance of royalty.
iii. Blood-shed, Ninam
The most terrible act of cruelty and violence on Kutiyattam stage is seen in the presentation of Surpanakha. In the second act of Ascharyacudamani Surpanakha,
in the form of a beautiful woman tries to enchant Rama and Lakshmana. She becomes furious when her attempts fail where upon Lakshmana cuts her nose and
ear. This disfigurement is a symbolic act to insult her.
Following valmiki the dramatist Saktibhadra describes Lakshmana as cutting her ear and nose. But the Kutiyattam actors took this incident to the extreme and made a cut to her breasts also causing a horrible flow of blood all over the body. The screeming Surpanakha dripped in red blood presents a horrible sight. There are instances of children, seeing this horrible scene of ninam, fainting in fear.
This is not a Sanskrit tradition, but a different South Indian version.
It seems that Kamban, the Tamil poet who composed his Ramayana in about 11,000 stanzas was the earliest South Indian or Dravidian author to have treated
the story. The date of Kamban’s Ramayanam is uncertain although one of the prefatory stanzas refers to saka 807 corresponding to 885 A.D. as the year when
the work was presented to a distinguished audience. While one school of thought fixes Kamban as a ninth century poet on this basis, there is another view that
internal evidence points to the 12th century.
In this Tamil version, Laksmana’s cutting of the breasts, ear and nose of Surpanakha is found recorded.
The 94th pattu of the Surpanakha Patalam of the Aranyakanda of the Kambaramayana the incident of the encounter of Laksmana with the demoness is described in detail. In order to save his own life from the dreadful lady Laksmana attacks her with his sword. The passage is as follows:
“Mukkum katum verm muran mulaikkankalum muraiyal pokki”
Meaning that Laksmana has severed the nose, ears and nipples of the breast of Surpanakha with his sword.
One may conclude that the ancient actors of Kerala were influenced by the strong South Indian version of the incident in showing Surpanakha on the Kutiyattam
stage. This incident can be seen only as an atrocity against women as also against the subalternate sections of society.
iv. World of Terror
We do live today in a world of terror. Does the presentation of horrific acts in classical forms encourage violence in life?
The answer seems to be not in positive. All the violent acts ultimately fail to achieve the objects the characters were longing for. And their end is miserable.
Hence nobody will take them as models for emulation. Yet it is desirable for a matured theatre not to deviate from Bharata’s principles so as to keep up the
equilibrium of various elements in society.
1. The sentiment called Raudra (the Furious) is produced out of the permanent mood Krodha (anger) and it usually takes its origin in Raksasas, Danavas and very haughty human beings resulting invariably in battle. It is generated by the ensuants like Krodhakarsana (to pull away in anger; A.G. reads as ‘Krodhadharsana’ meaning violation of the modesty of women (like wife) by others in anger), Adhiksepa (abuse), Avamana (insult), Anrtavacana (uttering falsehood), Upaghata (striking
of household servants and the like). Vakparusya (use of harsh words as ‘I will kill you’ etc.) Abhidroha (desire to kill), and matsarya (jealousy). The actions by which it is presented is (harassing), Cchedana (cutting), Praharana (striking), Aharana (pulling away); [AG takes ‘Praharaharana as one word and explaining battle’] Sastrasampata (striking with weapons), Sampraharana (wounding with weapon), Rudhirakarsana (shedding of blood) and so on. [Natyasastra VI-71]
2. The author calls this stage-script Dhanajayadhwani and Samvaranadhwani; together later designated as Vyangyavyakhya.
3. Following Kambar later Malayalam poets included the cutting of breasts in their description. Ramakathapattu by Ayyapilla Asan (14c.AD), Ramayana Champu of Punam Nambudiri (15c.AD), Adhyatma Ramayanam of Thunchathu Ezhuthachan (16c.AD) – all follow this version. Kutiyattam actors might have adopted this on stage around 13-14 centuries since the 15th century Natankusa strongly criticizes this deviation from Sanskrit sources.
Saktibhadra has stated only as:
Nyastamastram nisacaryah kathamcit karnanasike.
(I have laid my sword on the ears and nose of the demoness).
Valmiki Ramayana (3.18.21) gives the version as:
Ityukto laksmanastasyah kruddho ramasya pasyatah
Uddhrtya khadgam ciccheda karnanasam mahadalah
(Drawing his sword, when spoken to in these words, the angry Laksmana, who was possessed of
great might lopped off her ears and nose while Rama looked on)
Theatrical Responses to the Mahabharata.
K G Paulose
The eternal saga of Mahabharata( mba) is described in the Adiparva. It proclaims – Every age has its own mba and every mba has its own interpreter. Our search here is for the mba of our age.
Determinism and Free ‐ will
Many of you might have seen the Mba serial of B.R.Chopra on TV. Every episode in it starts with a rolling Wheel and many other wheels of different size on the screen. Wheel is the symbol of kala ‐ time. For us kala is chakra –cyclic. Never does kala takes a linear path. We do not, therefore, have
progression or regression. Extended further, we reach the solar system wherein every planet has its position motion and speed. There is no choice. Everything is predetermined. This is the universal rtam of life in which our role is pre destined.
In spite of it each planet moves in the orbit in its own axis. Here it has a limited choice. Ekalavya had no option to exercise his free will, yet he survived and practiced to send arrows with the remaining four fingers. His successors of the tribe still do not use the thumb while shooting .This is what we call the survival instinct. Thump, in India, is a great symbol. The weavers in Bengal, in the 19th cen. when the colonial masters imposed laws against their traditional job cut their thumps in protest
Let us come to more recent times. Many of us were born as slaves in the British Empire. When we were children grandmothers encouraged us to read Ramayana and Puranas. But they did not permit us to read or hear Mahabharata. They feared that reading mba will bring in quarrel in the household. As there is a philosophy for reading there is also one for unreading. A king of ours put in jail his uncle suspecting his loyalty. He was the greatest of the Malayalam poet of that time. In all humility he composed thousand verses of apology seeking pardon and sent it to the king. The king read the first verse and let it out. The poet was enraged. In his anger he wrote hundred slokas praying the God of
Death to take away the life of the king. The interesting part of the story is the reason given by the king for not reading it. The first verse the king feared that if he continues to read he will pardon the poet much against his own will. This is the philosophy of unreading the text. What our grandmothers feared in mba?
The two primordial instincts inherent in man, crude and savage, are the greed for wealth and women. Had not Santanu run mad after the fisher girl the story have been otherwise same with the fisher man. His claim on the throne upset everything. The objects of human life were only two. Artha and Kama. Bharata allows only two rasas to dominate a play‐ vira and sringara. It was after a long time in the history of humanity that a regulatory mechanism to distinguish man from anima became necessary. So when Dushyanta became infatuated on the hermit girl his first doubt was whether she is fit to be married or not. It is here that the Dharma came in. It provides a value
Acquire wealth, enjoy women; but be within this frame. Thus trivarga governed the life for long. It became difficult to enforce this moral code? Of course police and penal code are there. But a better way is to persuade so as to ensure their will full acc eptance. Like we tell our children go and study today tomorrow we will take you to the film .Remember, if only you get good marks. Thus came the concept of Svarga. The elders offered a temptation to enforce dharma. The chief attraction of svarga is that the apsaras will be all around us .Then all kinds of allurements, dishes, gardens flowers and what more. It is a kind of tourist destination once the purse is empty one has to check out. Humanity by this time had marched a long way. Other thoughts began to disturb the minds.Goutama found the escape in nirvana. Svarga pleases, nirvana freezes. By 9thcen. Santa became accepted as the chief motive of mba. Two centuries later Abhinava accepted santa as maharasa.
Those grandmas are no more. The value system in which they lived has also vanished. The children today are born to an entirely different set of values which give them multiple choices. No more, any of us teachers take Drona as a model; not because we have grown immensely good but Ekalavyas before us have the freedom to choose. They will either lock us in our room or file a suit in the Highcourt. This is the background of the Mba School encouraging us to read the epic. The distance from the grandmas to the scholars is not of decades but of values that govern the society. To put it in the language of agency the track for universal movement remains more or less pre destined. But that of
individuals have become more flexible. Individual fate is not as pre determined as it was in older generations. The system now provides a public space and a civil society for Ekalavya to move though he is conditioned by the universal ordinances.
2. Forms of Popular Dissent.
In the first part we were moving around the metaphor of wheel. Here we depend on another image that of a magnificent edifice. Mba is a colossal structure. It has three levels. In the outer level the court yard and gardens were anyone moves freely. This is the sphere of popular mba. When we move closer the watchman stops us. Admission is restricted. The structure built on one lakh twenty‐five thousand bricks is amaizing.This is the second lare‐ the text of mba. When we move in and in we reach the innermost chamber‐ the sanctum sanctorum. This is the abode of geeta. Sankaracarya, for reasons best known to him took out geeta from mba and elevated it to the rank of Upanishads. Yet this forms the integral part of mba. These are the three levels of mba‐ popular textual and philosophical. Our engagement here is confined to the first two. Everybody knows that the mba war was fought by the pandavas and kauravas.But the heroes of kurukshetra really are the aborigines. 361 aboriginal groups drawn from different parts of India participated in it. Anthropologists have identified 38 groups of adivasis who joined the pandava camp and 59 with the kaurava. The rest might, perhaps, have disappeared or merged with other clans. The aborigines fought with vigour many fell dead and others returned to their native place. Those who returned carried with them the memories of what they saw and heard. They narrated, of course, with inflated imaginations these stories to their kith and kin. Thus a parallel oral tradition grew up. Everywhere in India there is a river where Kunti took her daily bath or a cave where pandavas lived in. The rustic fascination of the innocent rural folk gave fanciful pictures of their heroes. They differed very much from the official releases of Sanjaya. The sympathy of the innocent people were with those who suffered or humiliated. They built temples for Draupati. You will be surprised to know that there is a temple for Duryodhana in Kerala. There are thousands of stories popular all over India orally transmitted from generation to
generation. This mass of tales is an integral part of our mba tradition.
This tradition, in most cases expresses the voices of dissent from textual mba. We take some examples from theatre. They are more faithful to the fact. Actors use masks to
uncover the truth; we on the other hand conceal the truth with golden covers.
We all know that Paschalis in exile got the akshayapatra. The beauty conscious rural folk ofGujarat worried that how much she suffers in the absence of a mirror. They gave her a mirror. Our mirrors reflect the image of he who holds it. But this mirror reflects the image of the one whom she likes most. The play based on this theme is Chhayamukhi. There is another popular play jampoophal.During their exile Draupadi came across a wonderful fruit. She plucked it. Now the tree spoke. Hold it back. This is indented for that sage who will shortly open his eyes after the fast for 12 years. You will be cursed. Frightened she put it back. But failed. The tree said. You are unchaste; otherwise you would have been successful. She pleaded innocence. Tree insisted otherwise. At last she said .Once, only once a thought came to me that I need not have to suffer these ordeals had Karna being successful in svayamvara. She was excused for being truthful. Everything ended happily. The poor folk in their innocence hopes to save her.
Many of you might have seen therukkuth. After the scene of disrobing Panchali the Jester (kattikkaran) comes out and tells the audience what a gruesome act .We do
not endorse it. We presented it only because Vyasa described it so. We need not multiply the examples. Only two more. Keecakavadha of Khadilkar was staged in
Pune in 1907by Maharashtra natak mandali. The audience soon realised that Kecaka is intended to be Lord Curson and Draupati is India and that Yudhishthira and
Bheema the moderate and extremist parties respectively. The British govt was terrified and prohibited the play on charges of sedition. This is the first political
incarnation of mba in theatre. I would like to add the Andhayuga of Dharmavirbharati staged in Delhi in 1954 to the group. Aswathama was the central
character of the play. Gandhari encourages him and inflix a terrible curse on Krishna. Last month I went to Kerala to inaugurate a play on draupati.
It is an enquiry of a college girl of today as to how Draupati is relevant to her today.
In this part we are discussing the popular face of mba.
3. Textual Mahabharata
Sanskrit plays generally follow the textual mba and reproducing the sentiments expressed by Sanjaya and the sutas. But even there there are isolated voices of dissent. One is of
Bhasa. He is a critical insider. Bhasa is not far distanced from Vyasa. Hence at times he corrects Vyasa and leads him to the alternatives. Bhasa has six plays based on
mba. Madhyamavyayoga is during the exile.Pancaratram at the end of the exile and Dutavakyam before starting the war. The last three are during the Great War. Dutakhatotkaca on the 12th day after the fateful fall of Abhimanyu, Karnabhara on the 17th day followed by Urubhanga on the 18th day with the death of duryodhana. All except Pancaratra are
one act plays. Pancaratra is in three acts. The feud between the brothers end without war by the intervention of Drona. They share the country and live happily. Bhasa dreams a mba without kurukshetra. Vyasa says war is inevitable. There is no alternative. Bhasa co rrects there is alternative. Who was responsible for war? Gandhari says Krishna is responsible. Hence she curses him. W are discussing whether it is principal agency or subordinate agency. Bhasa says –no the silence of the elders cost the war. We will call it negative agency. To be fare I will borrow a better term from Dr.Howard zinn to explain the situation‐ safety of silence. Wilful Silence in crucial moments a nation perishes when the intelligentsia keep silent. Yes it is what the wise men are for. It may cost their positions, perhaps even lives. John the Baptist lost his head. It was presented in a golden plate in Herod. Yet they do not keep quiet. Our elder’s fate in the most ignoble context of offending the modesty of a woman in the royal court.Pancaratram thus is Bhasas critique of
intelligentsia. The silence of Kunti also comes under this category. We call it negative agency but the victims of her silence cannot endorse our views. Kinti by her silence
was making herself safe. There is an interesting story by Mahasweta devi.At the fag end of Kunti’s life before being burned by the forest fire she comes across a woman
who was the eldest daughter in law of the nishadhini who was burned in the jatugriha with her sons. The woman reminds Kunti of her crime in burning six innocent tribal’s to death to serve her self interest. Kuntz cannot absolve herself from the responsibilities of these acts.
Base’s Karnabharahas been variously interpreted. What is the burden of Karna? Prof.Bhattacharya in his illuminating introduction told that the burden of Karna was his past. I beg to differ. Krishna had offered him the kingdom and even Draupadi on the sixth year. He could have easily accepted it. Kunti also would have been very happy. But his moral
consciousness. Sense of loyalty did not permit him. This leads to his tragic end. Bhasa is shocked. How Dharma becomes a burden? Karnabhara can also be read in a subaltern perspective. We did so during mandal agitation. Two more Bhasa plays can be read in this perspective. In Madhyamavyayoga the situation is abhasa’s imagination. Here he presents hidumbi and khatotkaca in bright colours. The situation in Dutaghatotkaca is also not in the mba. After the death of the son of Arjuna Bhasa sends deliberately the son of Bheema to the kaurava court. Those live in the city have only contempt for him; but his behaviour is highly dignified. When khatotkaca fell bravely fighting for pandavas Krishna is overjoyed. One reason was that Karna lost his last defence. The more he danced celebrating the death. He did not think even of Bheema who lost his son. This is the nature of the official release of Sanjaya. Bhasa’s dissent was against this. He admired Duryodhana, sympathised Karnaand sided with subalterns. He was perhaps inviting us to the other side of mba.
The mba tradition comprises both the oral and textual. It is an organic part of Indian life. The growing interest in modern times in mba is a welcome trend. Western intelligentsia
is blissfully ignorant of the oral traditions of mba. Hence the new academic studies should not distance the masses from mba.
Vedas were central to our culture. The expansion of it has three streams. The intellectual plane is left to the Upanishads. It is the realm of Yajnavalkyas, mytreyees and Gargees. The ritualistic part is inherited by the priesthood. Itihasas and puranas lead them to the masses. Mba is the one text closest to the Vedic world.
To contemporaries this tradition we should be daringly selective. Govt. Of India names a prestigious award in the name of Dronacarya. How can a dalit receive it without fear of his thump? At the same time there are contexts most suitable to the present. After the advice the Lord tells Arjuna think on it and do however you like. This is the highest
value in a democratic society. The need of the hour is an intelligent hamsa who can distinguish milk from water.
In The ClassicalAnd Contemporary Theatre Of Kerala
Dr. K.G. Paulose
Three ancient texts – Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata has moulded the mindset of Indians for centuries. Ramayana is the model for intra-domestic affairs, Mahabharata for
interaction with society and Bhagavata for spiritual purity. Mahabharata, unlike the other two, is not permitted to be used for regular chanting for fear of creating quarrel in the household. Mahabharata presents man as he is where as the other two depicts a sophisticated and idealized levels of living. It is precisely because of this that theatre likes Mahabharata more than anything else. The influence of Mahabharata on theatre is tremendous.
Bhasa and Kalidasa
Mahabharata has been a veritable source for Sanskrit dramatists to develop their themes. Bhasa and Kalidasa were the earliest playwrights who were inspired by the great epic. Of the two, Bhasa revolted, often amending Vyasa by suitable substitutes and filling his silence with own interpretations. Kalidasa, on the other hand, often compromised to the epic narrative.
Bhasa was sympathetic towards the characters who were marginalized, neglected and condemned - Karna, Duryodhana, Gatotkacha, etc.. He made them heroes. Krishna, Dharmaputra or even Arjuna became pale in their presence. In Pancharatra Bhasa goes to the extent of suggesting an alternative to Vyasa. Vyasa tells us that there is no alternative to bloodshed to solve the Kuru-Pandhava feud. It is an indirect approval for warfare. But Bhasa amends and corrects that there are alternatives, the way of negotiations, peaceful settlements. The indictment here is on the pitamahas and acharyas. In spite of their having eyes they behaved like the blind father. Had they sincerely wished and worked, they could have avoided the horrible war. Bhasa envisioned a Mahabhara without a Kurukshetra! Bhasa was rebellious, and theatre liked this
rebellion. Kalidasa was soft. His Sakuntala differs not much from that of Vyasa, the minor changes brought about were by the compulsion of time. These two trends – the interpretative mood of Bhasa and the compromising tone of Kalidasa – are visible throughout the history of theatre; the greater influence of course, being that of the former.
The only living tradition of the ancient Sanskrit theatre today is the Kutiyattam, of Kerala, declared recently by UNESCO as the intangible heritage of humanity. Kutiyattam theatre is the continuation of Bharata’s theatre, but it has improvised considerably Bharata’s concepts. The actor in Bharata is an imitator; in Kutiyattam he is a narrator and interpreter too. The actor himself turns out to be a stage on which multiple characters, through the technique of transformation of roles, enact their roles. Also, while indulging in imaginative acting, the actor breaks the frame of the dramatic text and context. Liberated from the text, he creates his own sub-texts providing exciting moments to the connoisseurs on each performance. Bhasa hides many such situations in his plays, which provide ample scope for the actors to exhibit their histrionic talents in different ways.
It is interesting to note that the first major contribution of Kerala to Sanskrit theatre is a play that makes a harmonious blend of the two streams of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Kalyanasougandhika Vyayoga,4 arranges symbolically a meeting between the two brothers – Hanuman of Ramayana and the Bhima of Mahabharata. This is very much popular in almost all theatrical forms like Kutiyattam, Kathakali, Thullal, etc. The major plays that followed – Subhadradhananjaya and Taptisamvarna – drew their theme from Mahabharata. The presentation of these plays marked the deviation from the national pattern5. Shortly after this the Bhasa plays became the favorites of Kerala actors. When Kutiyattam moved to temple premises, Ramayana plays gained dominance, the principal emotion depicted being devotion.
The emergence of Kathakali gave another impetus to the theatrical movements in the classical field. Ramanattam, the proto-type of Kathakali, continued the Ramayana legacy. But at a mature stage later, plays of Kottayam Thampuran brought Mahabarata to the centre-stage. Heroism followed by love as in Nalacharitam, replaced bhakti practised by Ramayana plays. These features have become the main of Kathakali now. The most important pieces in the Kathakali repertory are drawn from Mahabharata. In some cases, they rely more on venisamhara.
Anti – hero cult
An important characteristic feature of Kerala classical theatre is its adherence to anti-hero cult. The traditional heroes like Dharmaputra or Srikrishna are insignificant minor characters on the stage where as anti-heroes like Dhuryodhana, Dussasana etc. reign supreme. Their roles are donned by major characters.
Bhasa is at his best when he depicts the pratinayakas.8 The traditional anti-heroes command respect in Bhasa’s plays. He is sympathetic towards Kaikeyi in Pratima. Rama is pale before Bali in Abhiseka; unable to answer his questions. Karna is held in high esteem in Karnabhara. Urubhanga extols Duryodhana.
Bhasa thus rebels against the traditional readings of the itihasa. He re-reads these texts and reveals the inner struggle of these characters who are ordinarily condemned as evil.
Sympathy for the anti-heroes endeared Bhasa to the Kerala audience. Consequently the Kutiyattam and Kathakali theatre became stages for the display of the valour and struggle of the anti-heroes. Bali, Ravana, Duryodhana etc. have become the major characters in the classical theatre. The real heroes like Rama, Krishna, etc. have been withdrawn to the background. Thus the theme of the Kerala theatre became abundant with battles and killings.
Another point of conflict with traditional view is in the treatment of Rasa. Most of the interesting scenes in which rasa is delineated are cases of rasabhasa in the technical sense. Love in these instances are not mutual – Ravana’s love for Sita, Kichaka’s love for Draupati etc. But their exquisite beauty surpasses all the definitions of poetic propriety.
There is a vibrant contemporary Sanskrit theatre in Kerala. The heroes there are Duryodhana, Karna, Dushyanta, etc. drawn from Mahabharata. But they are not repetitions of Vyasa’s characters, but new creations, novel interpretations. The presence of Mahabharata in the classical and contemporary theatre of Kerala is not in the form of direct readings of Vyasa; they are all rereadings. Theatre reads and re-reads the epic.
Take for example the interpretation of Urubhanga on the contemporary stage: Duryodhana (Urubhanga) is not the Duryodhana of Vyasa or Bhasa. There are three Duryodhanas in Urubhanga – The valiant hero, an ordinary mortal perplexed when facing death and the third a different person strange to him self. The third is presented as a teyyam standing on the stills.
The play starts with a description of the fight.. The cruelty of war is portrayed through the words of several characters. This is followed by the entry of Duryodhana; he drags himself along the ground, his thighs being broken. Bhasa has compared him to Vasuki; after the churning of the milky ocean, crushed floating with its hood withdrawn.11 The director has fully understood the significance of the image. Vasuki is not the hero or the beneficiary of the churning; he is only a tool. Death is the hero and war is the villain. War is the ultimate victor. Those who fought the war crawl with their hoods crushed.
Duryodhana sees his preceptor burning in anger, ready to smash everything. The terrible vow of Balabhadra is to annihilate all the Pandavas for treachery they have committed on Duryodhana. But when he came to know that the cheater was none other than his brother lo! he is freezed! On the other side he sees the son of his preceptor- Aswathama. Treachery wins and he becomes one among the immortals!
There is one more fascinating image in the second half of the verse: Balavratam Grahitah. Face to face to death everybody becomes innocent like a child. Duryodhana come to know the value of love for the first time – he sees his mother with a new eye. Her eyes, through tightly covered, turn wet. All through the drama she calls her Suyodhana – Oh! Valiant fighter. He wants to live more on the earth. He desires to be born to the same mother again. If he gets another life, he would not live it as he did. Death has taught many things to him. His misdeeds haunt him; the spring of love sprouts in his mind.
This is not the old text. It is a new commentary, interpretation or vision. This can be read as a play against war, against treachery, against cheating; also a play of love when a man relieved sees his naked self himself and longs for another life to live a better life.
Karnabhara raises a big social issue: the way a society reacts to one when he is a sutaputra and again as a suryaputra. The play raises higher questions: Karna believes in values but becomes a victim of cheating. He realizes the treachery when death confronts him, but he is unable to escape from the trap. That is the tragedy of Karna. Karna’s burden is not his actions; on the contrary it is his belief in values. Alas! These are not real values; they are artificial, counterfeit values!
The relevance of Mahabharata is not lost by time. It contains in itself several layers of meaning. Every age reads what it needs. And theatre is the best medium for such re-readings.
1. It is interesting to note in this context that the ninth century critic Anandavardhana considers Mahabharata as a purvapaksha. The end according to him is the Harivamsa where one attains the bliss by conquering all desires (trikshnakshayasukha). Does he mean that Mahabharata arouses only thrshnas without really answering to the real challenges of life?
2 At the end of a sacrifice, Duryodhana offers dakshina to Drona. He can ask for anything. The preceptor demands, as dakshina, the restoration of half of the Kindgom to the Pandavas. This is accepted on condition of discovering Pandavas within five nights. (Hence the title pancharatra). On the advice of Bhishma, Kauravas carry away the cattle of Virata king. They were defeated in a rescue operation led by Arjuna. This leads to the discovery of Pandavas. As had promised Duryodhana shares the Kingdom with the Pandavas and everything ends happily. The disastrous was in averted. The play in three acts belongs to the Samavakara type of rupakas.
3. For more details – Kutiyattam Theatre: The Earliest Living Tradition, K.G. Paulose, D.C. Books, Kottayam, Kerala, 2006
4. Bhima in search of Celestial Flowers, K.G. Paulose, Bharatiya Book Corporation, New Delhi, 2001
5. Vyangyavyakhya, the stage manual for the presentation of the two dramas.
6. Kutiyattam became confined to temple theatres by 14th Century. Ramayana plays became more popular during this period. Kutiyattam came to be performed on public stages in the latter half of 20th Century.
7. Kathakali had a wider range as it could be presented anywhere by anybody.
8. Bakavatham, Kalyanasougandhikam, Kirmiravadham and Nivathakavachakalakeya vadham. Theme for the last three is drawn from Mahabharata.
9 Bhasa has his own assesment of the epic characters which differed fundamentally from that of Vyasa. Duryodhana, Salya, Karna, Balarama, etc. are not the same as conceived by Vyasa. Bhasa casts aspersion even in the character of Krishna. In Dutavakyam he challenges through Duryodhana Krishna’s right to be an envoy in bringing about peace among kinsmen as he himself had set an example otherwise by killing his own uncle. Following are the plays of Bhasa the themes of which are drawn from Mahabharata - Pancharatram, Dutakhatotkacham, Urubhangam, Madhyamavyayogam, Dutavakyam and Karnabharam. Ghatotkacha’s role as an envoy is Bhasa’s on invention.
10. Urubhangam directed by Kavalam Narayana Panicker.
Glorious, smeared with blood which is like the sandal paste of war In infant's role now, crawling with dusty arms on the ground, He looks like Vasuki plying exhausted in the sea After the churning when released by gods and the demons. Looked in this way the discussion regarding the play being tragedy or not seems to be ridiculous.
Duryodhana is not the hero. He is only a tool. War is the hero as well as the villain. It is the final triumph of war at all ages that Bhasa has depicted in this drama.
12 Karnabhara directed by Chandradasan, Lokadharmi Tripunithura
Dr. K.G. Paulose
Three characteristics distinguish classical theatre from other forms of performing arts – i. it inherits the age-old Natyasastra tradition, ii. even in regional manifestations it preserves the national character and iii. the acting pattern is mostly stylized. In its functional part classical theatre strives to preserve the existing social order where as the other forms deliberately break it.
Classical forms emerged from the popular. Theatre prior to Bharata was mass-based. The Jathaka stories give the details of many popular entertainments. Performances were held in temporary cloth-tents or open stages. Thousands witnessed the shows. The audience laughed and rolled to express their ecstasy-haseti remeti cha. In those days there was a danseuse by name Janapadakalayani. As the name indicates she was the darling of the villagers. When she danced the audience applauded shouting ‘well done’, ‘excellent’ etc. The aim of all the performances was to cause merriment and laughter so that people forgot the worries of ordinary life. Even the monks went to see these performances. Thalaputa, who led a 500 strong theatertroupe from the South, raised an innocent question to Lord Budha-
‘Will not these artists who serve the public like this, attain a position
equivalent to that of Gods in the other world?’
This pre-Bharatan theatre had a lot of shortcomings. Most of the presentations were rather crude; actors drawn from the lower strata of society were ignorant of the use of ornate language or stylized acting. The structure was rather loose. Yet it attracted the masses. Bharata refined the crude stage, confined it to well-built halls and prescribed a grammar for performance. Just like Panini refined the Sanskrit language from various prakrts, Bharata culled out from popular forms an elegant performing style. He elevated theater to a higher level. The first Natyagruha, with guards on all doors, was constructed to crush the voice of resistance. The classical stage will not tolerate any kind of revolt that upsets the existing order because it stands for the sthavara in society.
Kerala made, two daring deviations, in the 10th century, in the performance tradition of Natyasastra. The royal dramatist Kulasekhara wrote two dramas. He called his friends, scholars and actors and enacted himself the roles to show how he intended to present his dramas in a different way. He made two important improvisations–first, he introduced the device of dhwani which was accepted the soul of poetry, in theatre and developed sub-texts out of the dramatic texts-dhvanipadha from grandhapadha. The stage script thus prepared is known as Vyangyavyakhya.
The character in Subhadradhananjaya enters asking for alms. Bhiksham datta. The feminine gender in Bhiksha suggests a woman-a prayer to give Subhadra to Arjuna. Actors present this inner meaning with eyes alone (netrabhinaya).
Interestingly, Kulasekhara recognizes two levels among the audience-the learned and the layman-prekshaka and nanaloka. Suggested sense is for the former; nanaloka being satisfied with the outer meaning.
The other innovation of Kulasekhara was the introduction of Purvasambhanda-linking the past to the present. The stage direction in Sanskrit dramas for the entry of a character is-tatah pravisati (after that he enters). The spectators have a right to know the past events, for which the story till the moment has to be narrated. Being a solo-performance the actor will have to transform to several roles in course of his narration. Also, the actor will have to indulge in imaginative acting. These two-pakarnnattam and manodharmabhinaya are the two major contributions of Kerala to Sanskrit theatre.
The past of puranic characters like Arjuna can well be traced from original sources; but other characters like vidushaka do not have such a history. It has to be invented. So Kutiyattam localized vidushaka and created a metaworld of illiterates for him. Using Malayalam language on a Sanskrit stage, soon, the jester came to occupy the center with his witty narratives. He prescribed parallel values of life. For the Brahmins the goal of righteous life (dharma) is eating; financial gain (artha) is through service to royalty;
amorous life (kama) is through the union with prostitutes and the final emancipation (moksa) by cheating them.
The humor of vidushaka, at times, is innocent.
What is the difference between the creations of the potter (kulala) and that of Brahma? Vidushaka gives a simple answer-the former is put to fire before use and the latter after use!
At times his words will be critical and sarcastic-
A poor Brahmin lived in a farm with his pregnant wife. The washer man in the village had a donkey to carry cloths to the river. One day the donkey entered the farm and destroyed the crops. Brahmin’s wife tried to drive the donkey away. She threw a sickle, which hurt the leg of the donkey and made it unable to walk. The furious washer man dashed to the Brahmin’s house to retaliate. Seeing him, the lady ran in fear and fell down which caused abortion to her. The case came to the king. After hearing both sides king pronounced the judgment. The Brahmin should carry the clothes until the donkey recovers because he was responsible for its injury. The washer man also deserves punishment since he caused abortion to Brahmin’s wife. The washer man, therefore, should impregnate the Brahmin’s wife!
This is a strong indictment to the prevailing judicial system. Vidushaka provided eyes, ears and tongue to a mute, closed society. He was the forth estate in a totalitarian society for several centuries.
Kutiyattam is like a wall-clock. The face of it represents the rigid classical structure and the pendulum below moving sideways stands for the popular and the progressive elements. It is a mixture of two traditions that of Bharata and Vyasa, theatrical and narrative.
The general perception is that Kutiyattam, being the performance of Sanskrit plays, follows Natyasastra. It is true, only partly. According to Natyasastra, the drama has a rigid frame, sophisticated structure with a beginning, development and denouement, the five junctures with their innumerable limbs for the plot and the actor imitating the historical
character. All these go to develop the principal sentiment, either heroic or erotic. The abhinaya is predominantly vakyartha oriented. The multiplicity of characters on the stage gives room for interaction among the characters, which helps a lot in the development of action.
A close look at Kutiyattam would reveal that none of these requirements of Bharata is fulfilled here. Kutiyattam has a loose structure, the development of plot does not follow the accepted track, abhinaya is almost of the nature of a monologue with little scope for interaction and the elaboration centers around the padartha.
We have another stream, the epic tradition, which employs a different narrative technique. Here, the narrator moves from one incident to another, jumps from the present to the past and hither to the other world. It is a journey through the unlimited time and space. The structure is kept loose to facilitate this flexibility. Kutiyattam follows this epic tradition in its content and mode.
In Kutiyattam, the actor has a break not only from the structure of the play but even from the very stage itself. The actor gets himself transformed into a stage and characters, emotions and incidents pass through his face as though it were another stage erected for acting. He is liberated from everything around except from the lamp kept before him. Only the epic tradition permits an actor to be so liberated that he can fly through the space in imagination, assuming as many roles as possible.
Bharata’s actor is an imitator, whereas a Kutiyattam actor is also a narrator and interpreter. These two additional roles are inherited from the epic tradition. He is akin to the suta in Naimisaranya than to the hundred sons of Bharata in the ancient lore. Even the learned fails to understand this difference and keep on asking about the imitative and identifying functions of the actor on classical stage.
Sage Vyasa is the first narrator. He got an excellent audient – Ganapati. The sacred bond between them was that the audient wanted uninterrupted narration; the narrator, in turn, demanded a careful understanding. This narrator-audient relation is key to the Indian aesthetics, be it literature or theatre.
These narrative techniques have been studied fixing them in different contexts. One thing is common to all-the interest of the audient is sustained. It is the sole aim of all narratives. The storyteller in Chakyar is a direct inheritor of this tradition. The verbal techniques translated to physical action provided the basis for pakarnnattam. Kituyattam, therefore, is the fusion of Vyasa and Bharata, the narrator and the imitator. Kutiyattam, thus, represents a higher stage of progression from Bharata’s concepts.
Natyasastra provided the classical rigidity to the acting in Kutiyattam; the interventions of Vidushaka gave it a popular base. This is derived from the narrative, epic tradition. In short, classical theatre is indebted to Bharata for its sthavara elements and to Vyasa for the popular and progressive aspects. The contributions of Kerala actors are the daring deviations they made from the national pattern. They, in a way, regionalized national theatre and localization, as a form of resistance, itself is a progressive step.