2. The Vyangyavyakhya (09.c.CE)
King Kulasekhara wrote two dramas taking the stories from the Mahabharata . He did not have much appreciation to the conventional method of presenting Sanskrit dramas that prevailed at that time. The lay men among the audience enjoyed the plain speaking. What about the scholars? They knew the story already. The stage presents nothing new to satisfy their intellectual or emotional thirst. He was thinking of a method of acting that will endear the elite. It was then that he heard of dhvani expounded in Kashmir. Of course, Anandavardhana did it for poetry. Excited, he decided to apply this to theatre. He called the scholars and actors around him and explained to them his innovative idea. He donned the role of each character and demonstrated the way to bring out the hidden meaning. Naturally, they too were attracted to the new method. Thus an innovative improvisation was designed to present Sanskrit dramas in Kerala by the end of the 9th c. CE. This was not known to the outside world. Kerala, thus deviated from the national tradition of N S.
The method by which Kerala deviated from the national stream was two-fold: application of dhvani and retrospective narration. There is nothing new in the story to attract the audience. What they expect from a performance is the interpretation of the silence of the author. The actor has to bring out the silence hidden in the text. It is the suggestive import that transforms the page to stage. In SD, the vidushaka enters asking for alms-bhikshaam datta. He pretends to be hungry and communicates it to the audience through four-fold acting. All are pleased. It is not over. Concentrating his attention on the elites in the front row, he informs them that what he seeks is not food, but a maiden. This is suggested by the feminine gender in bhikshaa. Subhadra is in love with Dhananjaya, his friend. We are here to seek her hand for Arjuna. This is the suggested sense here.
This suggested sense cannot be communicated verbally as it is not in the text. The actor has to create a sub-text from his imagination. Imagination knows no bounds. So the actor can take it to any extent. The revolutionary step liberated the actor, for the first time, from the dramatic text and is permitted a free-play on stage. The second point relates to the medium of communicating the hidden meaning. Kulasekhara prescribes netraabhinaya – the movement of eyes. It is a silent interaction between the the actor and the elite. Both need to be imaginative - the actor to present and the elite to receive.
The other radical innovation of Kulasekhara was the introduction of retrospective narration. The texts always introduce a character with the introduction - tatah pravisati, then enters. When? After what? Spectators have a right to know as to what happened before his/her entry. So every character has to establish his/her present status narrating the previous incidents up to the textual context. This is purvasambandha - connecting the past to the present. The actor now is confronted with a serious problem. How to narrate effectively the incidents related to other characters without verbal communication? Here we have an exhilarating new experience. He permits the actors to transform their roles! Arjuna meets Uloopi. She is enchanted by the handsome youth. How to express her feelings? The actor in the guise of Arjuna transforms himself to Uloopi. Strange indeed! This is the technique of Pakarnnaattam - transformation of roles. These two radical experiments - dhvani and purvasambandha - had far-reaching consequences on Kerala stage. Presentation of inner meaning took a lot of time. Hence it became practically impossible to present a play in full. Kulasekhara insisted on one act in one night. There too only one verse need be taken up for elaboration.When actor became free from the text, he took more time to please the elite. He got ample opportunities to exhibit his histrionic talents. Gradually the text and author were forgotten. The multi-character play, in effect, was transformed to a solo performance. Bharata’s theatre, thus, became an actor’s theatre.