- Karnnaparithyagam (The Abandoning of Karna)by Sadanam K. Harikumaran
Karnnaparithyagam(The Abandoning of Karna) premiered during the Sixtieth Anniversary of Sadanam Kathakali Academy in Kerala on 18 January 2013. Since 2008, Sadanam K. Harikumaran has been secretary of the academy, which he founded in 1953 by his father, K. Kumaran, a freedom fighter and follower of Gandhi. Harikumaran wrote the play four years ago, but this was its first performance. As usual, he also composed the music and choreography. Harikumaran has written twelve kathakaliplays. Seven are based on episodes in the Mahabharata, three are based on other Hindu epics, and the other is Manikantha Charitham(The Story of Manikantha), about the conflict of an invading Muslim general and a Hindu prince and their eventual friendship. Harikumaran’s plays are written according to kathakalitradition. Eight have now been performed, including Charudattam, his adaptation of Julius Caesar. (See my review in Asian Theatre Journal28, no. 2 : 569–572.)
Harikumaran is one of the finest kathakaliactors, as well as a composer and choreographer, and is also known as a kathakaliand carnatic music vocalist. He designs kathakalimakeup and headdresses and is a sculptor and painter. Since 2009, I have been fortunate to see five of Harikumaran’s plays: four in Kerala, and scenes 3 and 5 of Sapamochanam(Deliverance from the Oath), in which he was the lead actor, in San Francisco and Los Angeles in October 2010, the only performances of that play outside of India to date. The first part of Manikantha Charitham, with the new title Bhasmasura Vadham [End Page 310](The Killing of Bhasmasura), was performed in Zagarolo, Italy, on 22 June 2013. Seven of his works, including Charudattam, are published in the original Malayalam as Kathakali Aattakkathakal(Kathakali Play Texts) (Kozhikode, Kerala: Mathrubhumi Books 2008).
New plays have continued to be written for kathakalisince the classic era of the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries, but especially in recent decades they are not always successful. Another play on Karna, Karnasapadham(Karna’s Oath) was written in 1967 by V. Madhavan Nair (see Zarrilli 2000: 180–181). As in The Abandoning of Karna, the emphasis is on pathos ( karuna). It is still performed but remains controversial, the principal criticism being that it does not conform to the kathakalistructure, not even having slokas(verses describing the narrative of the story).
The Abandoning of Karnais the story of the birth of Karna, which has never previously been depicted in a kathakaliplay. Karna is regarded as one of the greatest warriors in the Mahabharata. Although born to Kunthi, who later becomes mother of the first three Pandava brothers, Yudhisthira, Bhima, and Arjuna, Karna is abandoned at birth and ends up on the side of the opposing Kauravas. Later episodes of his warrior life are represented in other kathakaliplays, including Harikumaran’s own Karnnaparvam(Karna’s Chapter). In The Abandoning of Karna, the sage Durvasa (actor-dancer Sadanam Balakrishnan) arrives, planning to stay at the palace of King Kunthibhoja (played by Kalanilayam Balan), stepfather of Kunthi. Balakrishnan skillfully portrays the temperamental Durvasa, whose erratic behavior scares the king. The young Kunthi agrees to serve Durvasa, who in foreseeing the future realizes that when Kunthi marries Pandu, father of the Pandavas, she will have trouble bearing children. He offers her five boons so she can have children from divine beings. Kunthi is played by a senior streevesham(female role) actor, Kalanilayam Gopalakrishnan, who gracefully displays the sensitivity of the young girl.
There is a fascinating to and fro in one scene between Kunthi and Durvasa. Harikumaran explains in a personal email (11 May 2013) that Durvasa is considered the personification of the anger of Shiva. Kunthi was supposed to prepare and collect all the materials for Durvasa’s pujasby the time of his return from the river Ganga, but she had done nothing. Durvasa is angry. He asks why she is late for his evening prayer. Kunthi replies, “From dawn till sunset you are continually doing pujasto...