Grand show: A view of the new amphitheatre at Kalarigram near Auroville; right, a Kalaripayattu mock combat. Photo by: T.Singaravelou

A mix of music, martial art, theatre

On a night when the line between spectators and audience blurred, Kalaripayattu exponents clashed in mock combat, an Auroville music ensemble enthralled with syncopated rhythms on the mizhavu, the copper drum associated with Kerala’s traditional art of Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu, and a theatrical presentation dug deep into the philosophical core of Kerala’s age-old martial art form.

It was with a mix of music, martial art and theatre that Kalarigram, a dedicated Kalaripayattu training-healing centre near Auroville, opened its new amphitheatre recently.

“It was a race against the clock to get the space ready in time before the annual Tantrotsav celebrations to begin shortly,” said Lakshman Gurukkal, Kalarigram founder.

For the audience, seated in the rectangular enclosure, a couple of hours of ‘Yodhayanam’ turned out to be edge-of-the-seat stuff, a flurry of action and drama, ranging from pulsating percussion to a show that harmonised moves from Kalaripayattu with elements of contemporary music and dance.

Setting the stage alight, armed and unarmed exponents from the Hindustan Kalari Sangam in Kozhikode showcased the physical prowess of Kalaripayattu with a series of attacking and defensive combat manoeuvres that included spectacular leaps, blocks and lethal body locks. ‘Bhu’ (or earth) performance that followed almost served as a counterpoint to the muscular-martial aspect of Kalaripayattu by emphasising the form’s deeper philosophical dimension.

The show, which is a creative collaboration of Kalarigram, the French theatre company Water Carriers, and Ritam, Auroville, portrays the arduous journey of a warrior that transforms in stages into an inward quest for a consummate harmony of body, earth and nature.

The most riveting moments in Bhu were perhaps when the protagonist (Nikhil Varagiri) who sets out to master every nugget of knowledge about the martial art that would make a warrior invincible, encounters the master (Thierry Moucazambo). Wisdom trumps knowledge as the futility of his quest for supremacy dawns on the protagonist, also marking the point when the warrior’s journey turns inward. The Kalaripayattu guru imparts him lessons far more valuable than the secrets he seeks to become a great fighter. Rather, the disciple is able to quell the demons within…his fears, his ego and learns to be one with the elements. “The message has contemporary relevance… a fervent call to return to the roots and revive man’s connect with Nature,” says Philippe Pelen Baldini, founder of Water Carriers and artistic director of ‘Bhu’.

The theatrical presentation, which fuses a traditional art form with elements of modern theatre, can work at many levels — as pure spectacle, a renunciation of violence or a caution against ignoring/destroying Nature.


Originally published in The Hindu, Puducherry, February, 03, 2018