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An Ocean of Possibilities: From Lokadharmf to Nätyadharmf in a Kathakali Santänagöpälam Phillip B. Zarrilli Kathakali dance-drama is like a vast and deep ocean. Some may come to a performance with their hands cupped and only be able to take away what doesn't slip through their fingers. Others may come with a small vessel, and be able to drink that. And still others may come with a huge cooking pot and take away so much more! The above paraphrase of a highly reflexive story about kathakali* and its relationship to its audiences was told to me recently during an extended research trip to Kerala, India, by V. R. Prabodhachandran Nayar, a life-long appreciator of kathakali and Professor of Linguistics at the University of Kerala. Sitting on the veranda of his wife's family home on a quiet back alleyway in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, he spoke as we were at work translating Santänagöpälam,2 a kathakali play text (âttakatha, i.e. "enacted story") by Mandavapalli Ittiraricha Menon (1 747-94).3 To be sure, I had selected Sant änagöpälam for translation for all the "wrong" literary reasons. As Prabodhachandran Nayar, linguist and appreciator of good Sanskrit and Malayalam poetry, explained, Santänagöpälam simply "isn't great poetry. There's too much repetition, and the vocabulary is meager." In fact, Santänagöpälam is such "bad" poetry that Prabodhachandran Nayar had never bothered to read a printed version of the text before I convinced him to read it with me. As a text on the page, Santänagöpälam simply cannot compare to the poetic richness and beauty of the four formative kathakali texts (Baka Vadham, Kirmfra Vadham, Kalyäna Saugandhikam , and Kälakeya Vadham) by the Raja of Kottayam (c. 1645-1716) or the much heralded four-part version of the Naja-Damayanfi story by Unnayi Variyar (?1 675—? 17 16). Variyar 's NaIa Caritam in particular has been singled out as "the 67 68A Kathakali Santänagöpälam highest peak in kathakali literature"4 and therefore, along with the Kottayam plays, finds its way into the required syllabi of Malayalam literature courses and/or critical editions and commentaries . Nevertheless, though Prabodhachandran Nayar had never previously actually read the Santänagöpälam, he knew the textin -performance by heart and, not untypically for some members of a Malayali audience, often might be heard humming the wellloved if simple language beautifully set to appropriate rägas. Quite simply, even if he failed to value Santänagöpälam as poetry, he loved attending a good performance. Moreover, he cherished a lifelong set of memories of the play—those sponsored in family house compounds or local temples as an auspicious act by childless couples hoping to secure future progeny, or performances of the reknowned Krishnan Nayar, who, along with Kunju Nayar, had deeply influenced contemporary interpretations and conventions for playing the role of the principal human character, the Brahmin.5 What I found most memorable about performances of Sant änagöpälam I saw in 1993, especially at village temples, was not so much the element of virtuosity enjoyed by connoisseurs but rather the easy accessibility and meaningfulness of the play for non-connoisseurs in the audience, including children. Performances elicited everything from interest in the story as a drama to empathy for the main character of the Brahmin, to raucous laughter, to animated commentary and discussion, to a sense of devotion (bhakti) for Krishna, to subtler responses among connoisseurs to the more virtuostic elements of an actor's performance of a role. Even if from a literary and poetic point of view Santänagöpälam was the "wrong" play to translate, from a folkloristic point of view which emphasizes performance context and affect6 Santänagöpälam was arguably one among a number of suitable candidates for translation and analysis which might explain some of the more accessible and "popular" pleasures kathakali makes available to its audiences and which have unfortunately not been discussed or analyzed at length to date— aspects in addition to its heralded pleasures as a "classical...


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