Kamalakshi by The Madras Players

Kamalakshi by The Madras Players

By Sreelatha Rajan

On 28 October 2023, The Madras Players premiered their English play Kamalakshi at Narada Gana Sabha. Written by renowned dance scholar, musician and writer Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and directed by theatre veteran P.C. Ramakrishna, the play unfolds the story of a devadasi dancer in the late 19th century.

Set around the temple of Tiruvarur, the story follows the life of Kamalakshi an exceptionally talented devadasi, whose dance attracts people from all corners of the district. Unaware of the impact of her allure, she remains devoted to the residing deity of the temple, Tyagaraja.

In the same temple sings the gifted young musician, Sivaguru who belongs to the parampara of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Tongues wag and eyebrows are raised when a young Kamalakshi expresses her desire to learn music from Sivaguru, a bachelor. As the lessons progress, the audience is treated to beautiful live music, with Kamalakshi’s friend Neela accompanying them. Between these artists, the precincts of the temple get filled with divine dance and music. Sumitra Nitin as Kamalakshi, Sikkil Gurcharan as Sivaguru and Parur Ananthasree as Neela portrayed their roles effectively. 

The play also introduces a villainous character, Mirasdar Sugavanam Iyer (S. Ram) who wants to be the exclusive patron of Kamalakshi. However, the townsfolk disapprove of this and conspire to arrange Kamalakshi’s marriage to the penniless Sivaguru thus uniting dance and music.

But Kamalakshi delivers a surprise. She considers herself wedded to Tyagaraja through her Pottu kuthal ceremony and subsequent nritya sevas at the temple, and does not want to be associatied  with lesser men. The riches and the art they have to offer hold no charm for her. The inevitable climax leads to the actualization of what she had been expressing through her different varnams and padams, namely the yearning of jeevatma for paramatma and she becomes one with Tyagaraja.

The Tiruvarur temple. also known as Kamalalayam, as the Goddess Kamalambika resides. Kamalambika is considered by many as the goddess who embodies Saraswati, Parvati and Lakshmi and hence the temple is of special significance during Navaratri. Some stories also consider Kamalambika(after whom Kamalakshi has been named) being in a penance to marry Tyagaraja. The stage property had the grand Tiruvarur temple erected and as the stories of the temple and Kamalakshi played out, the property came to the forefront or receded to the background.

Bhakti was in the forefront of the emotions and the earnestness with which the Kamalakshi expressed herself made it plausible. The play was strewn with simple dialogues that brought out the puranas associated with the temple and the devotion of the townsfolk. The play also weaved music into its warp and weft as Sivaguru, Neela and Kamalakshi treated the audience to beautifully rendered Dikshitar kritis on the temple deities like Tyagaraja yoga vaibhavam, the varnam Roopamu joochi and the navavarna kritis on Kamalambika.

Parvathamma (Anuradha Ramesh) played Kamalakshi’s mother transitioning from a proud and indulgent mother to an ambitious woman and then to a scared and helpless one. V. Balagurunathan played Kamalakshi’s guru Sabapathy. The townsfolk though dressed in rich Kancheevaram silks, appear slightly too opulent for the late 19th century setting.

In conclusion, Kamalakshi, a poignant play that delves into the story of a devadasi with rich music and dance woven into it, had a full house at Narada Gana Sabha offering a delightful viewing experience.

(The author is a rasika and a writer who loves languages)

PC: Ram