KOCHI: Enchanting, yet feisty. That is how Karineeli, the goddess of Kalladikode hills of the Western Ghats, is etched in the minds of the Palakkad folks. For ages, the people of Malabar have been wallowing in the myths and fables of Karineeli. But not many had the fiery spirit to step into the goddess’ abode, considered to be deep inside the jungle, appease her and return omnipotent, that too unscathed. A person embarking on this odyssey has to tread a treacherous path and endure many hardships such as chewing the thorny ‘Karamullu’ shrub, eating raw crow flesh and taming tigers and lions.
“I would command any task and you have to do it,” proclaims the ferocious goddess in the opening scenes of ‘Karineeli’. The play highlights the prickly issues of lower caste Parayars of Kerala through sorcerer Chakkandan, the favourite disciple of Karineeli. The 120-minute drama is a hard-hitting take on casteist oppression and above all the never-say-day-die attitude of Chakkandan and his descendants to break the shackles of untouchability.
The play, produced by Palakkad Drama House, documents the idiosyncrasies of the sorcerer clan. It is all about grit and valour of Parayar community in invoking their preferred deity Karineeli and the sustained struggle against the subjugation of caste Hindus.The rich cultural traditions, rituals and folklore of Palakkad are finely woven into the storyline of four generations of sorcerers who are real-life characters. Master craftsman Ravi Thykatt has scripted and directed the play.
The journey from Chakkandan to Peradippuram Thevan to Kalamandalam Chandran takes the audience through the trials and tribulations of the embattled Parayar community which finally soars above the customs forced upon it by society. However, Chakkandan’s father Mudikkaran Ayyappan and Chandran don’t make an onstage appearance.Chakkandan, essayed by Jinesh Thodangil in a power-packed performance, portrays the die-hard spirit to propitiate Karineeli.
He survives all challenges thrown at him, learns the hard ways of jungle life and finally attains the unique power to ward off evil spirits. Chakkandan even earns the respect of the upper class Hindus.
His son Thevan, staged by film actor Murali Mangili, takes the Chakkandan lineage forward but is an alcoholic.
“Alcoholism was the bane of the poverty-stricken Parayar families, though they earned a respectful place among the caste Hindus. Toddy, carcasses of animals that died of illness and small bags of rice were the rewards from the upper-class chieftains for the sorcerers,” said Ravi.
The uplift of the Parayars in the play staged recently at the Palakkad Town Hall culminates with Kalamandalam Chandran, a representative of the fourth generation, who comes out of the cocoon of tradition and goes on to become a world-renowned percussionist which is the example of art transcending caste barriers.
Kudos to Ravi and his team who with bare minimum stage settings and exceptionally good light and sound systems created a perfect backdrop for the characters to thrive. Close to 50 onstage and backstage artistes were part of ‘Karineeli’. “I have done extensive research on the sorcerer’s family and their faith in the goddess. After our debut performance in Palakkad this month, our hands are full with 10 bookings,” said Ravi, who is gearing up for the next performance at Kozhikode in December.The songs, written by V K Shaji and directed by folklore musician Madhu Mundakam, have given a new plateau for the drama.