Kannagi ignites a volley of emotions in Auckland

Silapathikaram brings forth a pool of local talent

Venkat Raman – 

In his play, ‘The Mourning Bride’ published in 1697, William Congreve wrote, “Heaven has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turned, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorned.”

That concept was enunciated more than 1400 years before by Chera Prince Ilango Adigal in his ‘Silapathikaram,’ a Tamil Epic that is considered a masterpiece in Tamil Literature.

The theory of the anger of a ‘chaste woman burning people and places like hell’ was the climax of the epic which has been adapted in Theatre and staged all over Tamil Nadu and in many parts of the world.

The audience at Dorothy Winstone Centre, Auckland Girls Grammar School had a unique opportunity to witnessing young Aucklanders perform various characters of the great play in Bharata Natyam format on Saturday, March 18, 2017.

Colourful costumes

The artistes, ranging from five years of age to perhaps 25, appeared in colourful costumes and jewellery, and brought to the fore the essence of ‘Silapathikaram,’ including marital fidelity, marital infidelity, indiscretion, extra-marital affair, discord, miscarriage of justice and the burning down of a great city. The most important component in this long thread of emotions and events was unmistakably the unshaken love of ‘Kannagi,’ a woman of unquestionable virtue- and the strength of her character that spells the doom of a flourishing kingdom.

The performers were students of the Auckland based ‘Sai Natyalaya,’ who brought their Guru Renuka Ketheesan pride and honour.

Outstanding performers

Among them were three outstanding performers – Sumedha Hariswamy as ‘Kannagi,’ Thanvi Corattur as ‘Madhavi’ and Ambika Krishnamoorthy as ‘Kovalan.’

However, the credit for the magnum opus belongs to Madurai Ramachandran Muralidharan, the master composer, music director, choreographer and director who encapsulated the lengthy epic in less than three hours.

Creating a drama out of Silapathikaram is in itself a challenge but converting it into a Bharata Natyam dance format is a formidable proposition, in which Mr Muralidharan has proved his professional competence.

The Plot

In a nutshell, ‘Silapathikaram,’ written in the 2nd Century AD is about love, crime, death, anger and destruction.

Kannagi, enraged by the injustice rendered by the Pandiya King Nedunchezhiyan I, calls on the Sun God to set ablaze the City of Madurai, the capital of Pandiya Nadu.

‘Silapathikaram’ began with a colourful rendition of a Bharata Natyam group dance, akin to ‘Pushpanjali,’ or invocation followed by an enchanting scene of the love-life of Kannagi and Kovalan, residents of ‘Poompuhar,’ which was then a flourishing port city called, ‘Kaveri Poompattinam,’ which served for a short period as the Capital City of Chola Kings.

Their life is disturbed as Kovalan, attracted by ‘Madhavi,’ a dancer, abandons Kannagi.

Years later, Kovalan, irked by a comment by Madhavi, realises his folly and returns to the waiting arms of Kannagi.

They decide to move to Madurai to begin a new life. Kovalan takes an anklet of Kannagi to exchange it for money to start a new business. Misled by the trader, King Nedunchezhiyan believes that the anklet was that of his Queen and has Kovalan killed. Kannagi proves that it was indeed her anklet and destroys Madurai.

The Tamil Challenge

Some of us who studied ‘Silapathikaram’ during our scholastic years would remember the twist of words that are peculiar to Tamil and how the otherwise moral king erred in his stating his order to ‘bring’ Kovalan and not kill him. This is akin to the shift of the punctuation mark (Comma) in the sentence, “Hang him, not leave him,” while the actual verdict was, ‘Hang him not, leave him.’

Mr Muralidharan has deftly trained the three main artistes to perform their roles with poise and confidence, with a judicious mix of Bharata Natyam and folk dances. The epic also vividly describes the Tamil society of the period, its cities, the people’s religious and folk traditions and their Gods.

‘Silapathikaram’ was a visual and aural treat for people who appreciate Tamil culture and the benevolence of kings and their people.

Sai Natyalaya deserves appreciation for putting together an absorbing and challenging epic. Ms Ketheesan could do well with assistance on matters of incongruity and anachronism. Spectacles and wrist watches were certainly not in vogue in Poompuhar.


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