തര്‍ജ്ജനി

Krishnanattam - An Overview

Among the performances, Krishnanattam is auspicious.
If Ramanattam starts, defects will follow definitely

- (Kuncan Nambiar, Krishnalila)

Preamble

Krishnanattam or Krishnattam is a temple art, now performed at Guruvayur Temple as a votive performance by a troupe under the management of Guruvayur Devaswom (Guruvayur- 680 101, Thrissur Dt, Kerala, India). The performance is based on Krishnagiti, a text of slokas and padams in Sanskrit, composed by Manaveda, the Zamorin King of Calicut, in 1654. Krishna's story as described in detail in the Tenth and Eleventh Cantos of Srimad Bhagavatha, Mahabharata and Harivamsa is presented as song, dance and acting in a cycle of eight plays in eight days. The plays are Avataram, Kaliyamardanam, Rasakrida, Kamsavadham, Swayamvaram, Banayuddham, Vividavadham and Swargarohanam (Akaraka Swabhaviswa is the mnemonic to remember the names in order).

An excellent critical article concerning the various aspects of this temple art and its appreciation is 'Preparing for Krishna' by Dr. Rustom Bharucha [1]. Krishnanattam, the Malayalam commentary to Krishnagiti by Prof. P.C. Vasudevan Elayath [2] includes an excellent introduction Krishnattapravesakam. Krishnattam, a book by Dr. Martha Bush Ashton Sikora and Robert P. Sikora [3] summarises the historical development, training of the artists, description of performances, views of the artists as well as other aspects of Krishnanattam.

Preliminary Rituals

Kelikottu is the first event of the play. Kelikottu is carried out by playing drums (maddalams), gong (chengala) and cymbals (Elathalam) in the evening during daytime at the East Nada of the temple. This is to inform the people in the neighborhood about the performance scheduled in the night. A lamp is lit in the makeup room at dusk. Actors (all male) put on their make up, sitting on the floor, around another lamp lighted from the lamp in the makeup room.

As soon as the daily rituals of the temple are completed and the Sanctum Sanctorum is closed for the day (about 10 to 10.30 p.m.), the Kali Vilakku (An Oil Lamp of the Play) is kept in front of performance space in the Temple on the North side of the Sanctum Sanctorum. The Kali Vilakku is lit by a Brahmin from the lamp in the make up room. Stage hands place the musical instruments (drums, gong and cymbals) on the ground behind the Kali Vilakku. The maddalam players touch them respectfully, lift them up, play a couple of beats on both sides to regulate the sound and hang the instruments around their waists. Then Kelikkayyu is performed using maddalams, chengala and elathalam.

After kelikkayyu, a colourful rectangular screen is held behind Kali Vilakku by two stage hands. Then Totayam is performed behind the screen by the women characters appearing on that day's play. Totayam is a prayer dance performed by the dancers accompanied by music to invoke the blessings of the lord. Totayam is not for the spectators. For Totayam, the lines starting with Narayana Narakanthaka Narakaparayana in the fifth padam of the play Kaliyamardanam are sung.


Upananda, Balarama, Krishna, Nandagopa. Purappatu in
Kaliyamardanam

All performances begin with the recital of the sloka starting with Souvarnatbhuta as the mangala sloka (Auspicious Beginning).

After Totayam it is time for Purappatu, a piece of pure dance choreography. Either Krishna or Balarama or both, or along with other characters, dance with gestures of hand and face and special steps. In Avataram, the first scene (Brahma and Bhoomidevi) is considered as purappatu. In other plays, the scene in which either Krishna or Balarama or both appear first on stage is considered as purappatu. In Kamsavadham, Purappatu is in the middle of the play. In Vividhavadham, there are two Purappatu, first in the beginning (Balarama and wives) and the other after some time (Krishna, Bhima and Arjuna). In Swargarohanam, there is no Purappatu.


Garuda, Satyabhama, Krishna
Purappatu in Banayuddham

The characters performing Purappatu for the plays are as follows :

  • Play - Characters in Purappatu
  • Avataram - Brahma and Bhoomidevi
  • Kaliyamardanam - Krishna, Balarama, Nanda and Upananda
  • Rasakrida - Krishna
  • Kamsavadham - Krishna and Balarama
  • Swayamvaram - Krishna and Balarama
  • Banayuddham - Krishna, Satyabhama and Garuda
  • Vividavadham - 1. Balarama and wives 2. Krishna, Bhima and Arjuna
  • Swargarohanam - Nil

Concluding Rituals

Except Swargarohanam, all plays end with Dhanasi. The characters in the last scene of the play perform Dhanasi by dancing in a particular way accompanied by singing the lines starting with Narayana Narakanthaka Narakaparayana in the fifth padam of the play Kaliyamardanam. The characters performing Dhanasi for the plays are as follows :

  • Play - Characters performing Dhanasi
  • Avataram - Krishna and Yasodha
  • Kaliyamardanam - Krishna and Nandagopa
  • Rasakrida - Krishna and Balarama
  • Kamsavadham - Krishna and Balarama
  • Swayamvaram - Krishna and Satyabhama
  • Banayuddham - Krishna, Pradyumna and Aniruddha
  • Vividhavadham - Krishna and Rukmini
  • Swargarohanam - Nil

After the characters exit from the stage, a sloka is sung as mangalam (Auspicious end)

  • Play - Mangala Sloka
  • Avataram - Kelilola ( last sloka in Avataram )
  • Kaliyamardanam - Kelilola ( last sloka in Avataram )
  • Rasakrida - Daivereva ( sloka in Rasakrida )
  • Kamsavadhom - Sandranantha ( sloka in Rasakrida )
  • Swayamvaram - Kelilola ( last sloka in Avataram )
  • Banayuddham - Kelilola ( last sloka in Avataram )
  • Vividavadham - Sandranantha ( sloka in Rasakrida )
  • Swargarohanam - Kelilola ( last sloka in Avataram )

The play is concluded by playing a couple of beats on the maddalam just as in the beginning.

References
[1] Preparing for Krishna, Chapter 10, The Theatre and the World - The Performance and Politics of Culture, Dr. Rustom Bharucha, Routledge, London (1993). This essay was first published in the Journal of Arts and Ideas, November 16, (1988). Malayalam translation Krishnanu Venti Orungal
[2] Krishnanattam, commentary in Malayalam, Prof. P.C. Vasudevan Elayath, Guruvayur Deveswom, Guruvayur, Kerala, India (1985).
[3] Krishnattam, Dr. Martha Bush Ashton Sikora and Robert P. Sikora, Oxford and IBH Publishing Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, India (1993)
[4] Review of Krishnagiti of Manaveda, (edited and translated
by C.R.Swaminathan and Sudha Gopalakrisnan, Motilal Banarsidass (1997)) by L.S. Rajagopalan, Sangeet Natak Nos. 131-132, pp.44-50, (1999)

A. Harindranath, harindranath_a@yahoo.com
A. Purushothaman, purushothaman_avaroth@yahoo.com
web: http://www.geocities.com/krishnadas_a2000/krishna/krishnattam.html