One of the high points of our Kerala trip in 2016 was a chance to see a Kathakali performance up close for the first time. We went to the Kerala Kathakali Center in Fort Kochi, a beautiful place with a lot of character and immersed ourself in a one-hour extravaganza showing Kerala’s rich culture and our shared heritage.

Kathakali is a classical dance form of Kerala, a dance-drama famous for its vibrant dresses and vivid makeups. The performances, all-male, tell the stories from ancient Hindu mythology like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The performance that we watched was based on a play from Mahabharata, the killing of Kichaka. This is an attempt to represent the play in photographs. The dialogues are from a translation of a dramatic adaptation. 

Kichaka Vadham - The Killing Of Kichaka 1

Introduction

The Pandavas lost everything in the fateful game of dice and were sent to the forest for 12 years. Followed by the exile, they returned to the kingdom of Virata to complete the final part of their exile where they were to spend a year in the incognito mode. This episode in Mahabharata is thus named as Virat Parva.

The Pandavas along with Draupadi get employed in the court of King Virata. Yudhisthira assumes the identity of Kanka, an entertainer, Bhima a cook by the name Ballava, Arjuna assumes the attire of a woman and teaches dance as Brihannala, Nakula and Sahadeva tend to animals as Granthika and Tantipala, while Draupadi becomes  Sairandhri (Malini), a maid to Queen Sudeshana.

Kichaka, the evil brother of the Queen, wants Malini. Bowing to his constant demands, the Queen sends Malini to his palace. Kichaka first tries to seduce Malini and when she resists, tries to force himself on her. Malini someone escapes from his clutches and runs to Ballava, who consoles her and asks her to lay a trap for Kichaka. Malini invites Kichaka to meet her alone …

Narrator: Kichaka, dressed to kill, waits excited at his window. Licking his lips in anticipation, he greets Malini with Oily charm. 

Kichaka: Oh, jewel beyond compare! Oh, my precious one! You honour me, coming here especially to see me. Let me massage your legs and feet. They must be tired after your long walks here. Oh! To think that you’ve come here to my palace, to grace my apartment. Here we are together, in a bower filled with flowers, alone at last! Come here and lie down on my bed, my darling. Hold me in your arms. Together we shall share the greatest joys. 

Malini: What! You’re mad! You filthy beast! Foul-mouthed seducer. Your sister sent me here to fetch some of your best wine. For goodness’s sake, just give me the wine. Spare me your disgusting insults! 

Kichaka: Ha! She spits and snarls like a wild cat. Yet I’m sure of one thing. I’ll have her!

Kichaka tries to force himself on Malini, who fights back and tries to get away. Mad with lust, Kichaka beats her and tries to violate her. She somehow escapes and runs to Ballava. 

Narrator: Crushed in the mind and body by the terrible insults and injuries, Malini rushes weeping into the palace kitchen where Ballava is asleep. She wakes him up and tells him of Kichaka’s violence. Choking with sobs, she tells him everything.  

Kichaka Vadham - The Killing Of Kichaka 8

Ballava: I have already killed Jadasura and many other demons. Next I will kill Kichaka. Just as a hurricane that flattens great trees and  easily blows away the soil, so shall I crush Kichaka with my bare hands. Listen, my beloved. Invite him to meet you alone tonight in the palace dance hall. I’ll be waiting for him there. And then…

Malini: Oh, my protector! My gracious lord! That devil Kichaka wanted to seduce me. When I scorned his repulsive advances, he beat and kicked me. It was horrible. Only good karma or miracle helped me to escape. 

Ballava: My darling wife. calm down. That terrible ordeal is over. Be strong. Don’t cry any more. That disgraceful Kichaka won’t be around much longer. 

Ballava: I have already killed Jadasura and many other demons. Next I will kill Kichaka. Just as a hurricane that flattens great trees and  easily blows away the soil, so shall I crush Kichaka with my bare hands. Listen, my beloved. Invite him to meet you alone tonight in the palace dance hall. I’ll be waiting for him there. And then…

Narrator: Malini, bearing in mind Ballava’s plan, goes to seek out her tormentor. Kichaka readily accepts her invitation. That night, he enters the pitch-dark dance hall. Groping in the darkness, he finds someone waiting for him. Crazed with lust, he speaks excitedly. 

Bhima (Ballava) reveals himself and kills Kichaka. 

Kichaka: Oh, my beautiful and gentle sweet Malini! Speak to me. Can’t you see me? Are you asleep? Ah, your body is as soft as lotus bud in the springtime! 

What! Oh no! It’s hard as a rock. It’s not Malini! 

Bhima (Ballava) reveals himself and kills Kichaka. 

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