The two-hour-long play Sukanyacharitham tells the story of Sukanya, wife of Chyavana.  

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Sarva Dharma Maitri Pratishthan, has been a regular port of call for Dr Kiran Seth, founder of  SPIC MACAY, (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth)   whenever he happened to pass through Thrissur. But this time around the visit turned eventful for two reasons.

The septuagenarian scholar was on a cycle journey from Kashmir to Kanyakumari for propagating the cultural heritage of the country and also Gandhiji’s messages. And another highlight was the presentation of the latest production of Nagiarkuthu, “Sukanyacharitam ”. This appeared meaningful as Dr Seth’s organisation SPICMACAY was instrumental in popularising Kudiyattam across the country.

Interestingly, Sukanyacharitam has been excerpted from the latest Koodiyattam play ‘Chyavana Sukanyankam’, a one-Act play composed by the nonagenarian P K G Nambiar, but yet to be staged. Kalamandalam Sindhu picked out five from the forty one slokas scripted by Nambiar for the presentation of the koothu, lest the performance should exceed the time limit of two hours. Being a new play, Sindhu herself prepared Aattaprakaram (acting manual) for the same. The story culled from Mahabhagavatha highlights the sacrifice of the nymph-like Sukanya, daughter of the king Sharyati and also her fidelity to her husband Chyavana.

The story of Sukanya

Once when Sukanya and her sakhis were wandering in the forests, she came across an anthill. She was fascinated by two luminous spots on it. Curiosity compelled her to prod them with a sharp needle. There was a loud cry, “Please don’t” from inside the anthill. Blood was oozing out of the two holes. Frightened, she ran away. 

On a later occasion the king along with his wives also had a jaunt in the forests. As they were bathing, the king felt uneasiness and breathlessness. Strangely enough the people in the entire country started complaining about breathlessness and they all rallied to the king for protection. Sukanya overheard the volley of woes and revealed to her father about the mischief she had done in the forest. 

Soon the king rushed to the forests and could realise that sage Chyavana was inside and he was covered by the anthill as his penance lasted for one hundred years. Asked what expiatory measure he must take for the atonement of Sukanya’s action, the sage replied he wanted Sukanya as his wife! While the king stood flabbergasted, Sukanya agreed to heed to the sage’s wish. Unwillingly though, the king agreed so that the sufferings of his subjects would end. 

Meanwhile Aswini devas, while flying over the forests, happened to see the couple – a very old, blind and ugly-looking man with his young wife of bewitching beauty. Aswinis revealed their identity and expressed their desire to marry her. They further told her that being physicians of the devaloka, they can transform her husband to a handsome young man by treating him with

special herbal medicine. Incidentally, Chyavanprasam, the famous ayurvedic medicine for rejuvination derives its name from this. 

When Sukanya refuses, they give her a test. Three of them including Chyavana will take a dip in the river and as they come out they would look so indistinguishable that she would find it difficult to identify her husband. She is free to select any of them as her husband. Taking blessings from Chyavana, she agrees. 

Surprisingly, when the three came out of the river, not only were they identical in all respects but equally handsome and young. But Sukanya could easily choose her own husband by the blessings of Bhagavathy. 

Intricate abhinaya

Sindhu’s enactment of the anecdotes was proof enough of her histrionic dexterity. Her description of the forest was quite delectable. Humming of the bees, cooing of birds which she tried to imitate, the deer she tried to feed with grass, but ran away, the frolic of an elephant calf etc were noteworthy. 

The play with the ball was short but was performed to Lakshmi tala (14 matras).This appeared quite befitting. Incidentally this rare tala is used in Kudiyattam only for demonstrating the sthobha of Jadayu. She noticed the anthill as the ball with which they were playing slipped and rolled, finally stopping near it. Her concept of space was evident as she stood on the peedham to represent the Aswinis as they were looking down from the sky. 

The frolic of the king underwater with his wives had many romantic overtures. The breathlessness experienced by the king and her entourage was so impressive that even the audience too felt its impact. Amazing was her netrabhinaya that could portray the three men as they emerged from the river and also in spotting her husband among them.

Sindhu was assisted by Kalamandalam Jayaraj and Kalamandalam T S Rahul on mizhavu and Kalamandalam Sudheesh on edakka. Margi Aswathi kept talam. The brief explanation of the play read out by Aswathi in the beginning was useful for the audience to follow the events closely. 

A senior artiste, Sindhu’s efforts for popularising Nangiarkuthu by presenting a series of performances of Sree Ramacharitam and Sree Krishnacharitam without any external help have been praiseworthy. 


GS Paul is an eminent art columnist and critic. He has been writing for national dailies such as The Hindu for more than three decades. Currently, he is the Editorial Advisor of India Art Review.

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