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Karna’s Death (A Play By Pukalentippulavar)
Karna’s Death (A Play By Pukalentippulavar)
Description
Conventions

With a few exceptions, Tamil words used in the Introduction follow the transcriptions of the Tamil Lexicon and Sanskrit terms the transcriptions found in most Sanskrit dictionaries. Terms of Indian origin, which are listed in The Concise Oxford Dictionary, are given in their English forms. For the sake of readability, diacritics have not been used in the translation. However, the transcriptions of Tamil and Sanskrit terms with diacritics, and their explanations, can be found in the Glossary at the end of the book. The names of epic characters in the translation will normally be given in their Sanskrit spelling, for example Karna, Arjuna, Krsna, even in cases where the performers pronunciation was closer to the Tamil than to the Sanskrit (for instance Callahan has been rendered as Salya). Names of local epic characters and local place names are provided in their Tamil form, for example Ponnuruvi and Ilaiyanar Velur. Names of individuals are given in their Tamil form, in the spelling preferred by the individual.

 

Introduction

The tragic story of Kania’s life and death on the battlefield is one of the most sensitive and expressive episodes of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata&. It has been highlighted in different media of expression, including many of the traditional Indian theatre and dance forms, puppetry, printed chapbooks, the regional cinema, and television. The performance tradition to which this version of the story of Karna belongs is known as Kattaikküttu or Terukkuttu. It is an important form of folk theatre in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu in South India. In this tradition the play recounting Karna’s life and death is called Karna Mãksam or Karna’s Death2. Karna’ s defeat at the hands of his half-brother Arjuna is one of the climactic events in the final war between the one hundred Kaurava and the five Phndava brothers, which forms the main theme of the Mahdbharata. Unlike Arjuna, who clearly belongs to the Pandavas, Karna has conflicting loyalties. Arjuna and Karna are both sons of Kuntl. Karna, however, was born before Kunti’s marriage to Pãnclu. His mother abandoned him and he later joined the Kauravas. The central part of the play deals with the confrontation between Karna and his wife, Ponnuruvi, before he leaves for the battlefield. It highlights Karna’s complex and problematic relationship with his wife, and, indirectly, with his mother and the Pgndavas, as well as his fidelity towards his friend Duryodhana, the oldest of the Kauravas. Much of the dramatic action is determined by Karna’s psychological conflicts which arise from the fact that his royal descent and his relationship to the Pãndavas remain unknown to many, as well as from the main quality in his character, generosity—a quality which ultimately compels him to give up his own life.

Karna ‘s Death is a very popular play. All the companies I encountered during my six years of fieldwork had it in their repertoire. The play is usually attributed to the poet Puka!ënti3. An author of this name probably lived in the twelfth century, but it seems unlikely that he was the composer of the Kattaikküttu story. The name Pukalënti or Puka!ntippulavar has been attached to many epic plays and folk ballads which in all likelihood have been written by different authors. While the identity of the author of the play thus remained vague, several contributions from earlier generations of well-known, local KattaikkUttu actors were also used in the performance. They can be identified on the basis of the authors’ names, which appear as “signatures” in the last lines of these compositions.

Kattaikküttu

The social and historical background of the theatre The version of Karna Moccasin presented here belongs to the performance tradition of the Peruñkattür Pounce Netback Maram. This long-established, professional KattaikkUtru company is based in the village of Pcruñkattür about twenty-five kilometres west of Kanchipuram. All the members of this company are males as Kattaikküttu is traditionally performed only by men, some of whom specialize in performing female roles. At the time of recording Karna’s Death the core of the company consisted of six closely related kinsmen under the leadership of the actor and company-owner, Tiru P. Rajagopal. The core group formed part of a broader “kingroup” of performers, belonging to the Vannãr (Washermen) caste, who served several other local Kattaikküttu companies. The Peruñkattür Ponnucämi Ngtaka Manram included five other actors and three musicians who were not related to the core group and who belonged to several different castes.

Rajagopal’s family has been involved in the Kaltaikkuttu profession for at least four generations. His father, Ponnucãnii, and his grandfather, Canti ran, were KattaikkUttu performers. Kantian’s father, Cuppa Mëstri, must have been a Kattaikkãttu artist as well, but we have no information about him5. The core group’s hereditary involvement with the theatre appears to have grown out of their locality-specific rights-cum-obligations to perform dramatic spectacles as part of a complex of ritual tasks. These tasks were associated with the position of the core-group as one of the local service castes; they often dealt with the handling of “impurity” during important events of the life-cycle, in particular funeral rites, anti during festivals for local goddesses. Until about thirty-five years ago these rights-cura-obligations determined the long-standing relationships between a performer, or a particular group of related performers, and their patrons. Though these relationships were characid Examples theorized by reciprocity and interdependence, the performers usually occupied a socially and economically inferior status. In my fieldwork area dramatic spectacles to which the system of right scum-obligations applied included two types of performances: 6 the processional Terracotta and the artistically more complex Kattaikkottu. Terracotta is a mobile form lacking a specific narrative content. It used to be performed by two actors who moved along the streets of a village as part of the procession of a local goddess. Kattaikküttu constitutes fully-fledged, all-night theatre with an elaborate cast and a story repertoire, the performances of which are confined to a well-defined performance area. Vannär performers used to act in both Terukkuttu, which took place during the day, and in Kattaikkuttu staged at night. Of the two, KattaikkUttu performances acquired greater prestige and became economically more attractive. This led to performers abandoning Terukküttu in favour of KattaikkOttu performances. As a corollary of this development, the name TerukkUttu appears to have been extended to include performances of the latter type as’ well. In order to distinguish between the two types of performance genres, however, I prefer to use KattaikkUttu to refer to fully-fledged, all-night, narrative performances and Terukkottu to refer to mobile, processional theatre.

The erosion of the system of rights-cum-obligations to perform and the abandoning of the practice of Terukktittu form part of a broader process of change comprising the disengagement of the tradition from its organic embedding in the social and ritual village organization and its transition towards a more autonomous and more professional regional theatre form. This process has resulted in a commercialization of the relationships between performers and sponsors and between performers and company owners, greater professionalism and an emerging institutionalization of the tradition. These developments, together with changing audience demands, have helped to shape the unique performance style, emphasizing the heroic and virile identity of the theatre’s principal characters, the kattai vësams, who characterize present-day KattaikkOttu in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu. This style is furthermore marked by specialization in a Mahabharata repertoire and the monopolization of ritual performance contexts, such as Paratam (Mahãbhãrata) festivals.

 

Contents

 

Acknowledgements vii
Conventions ix
Introduction xi
List of character xxxvii
Tamil transcription and English translation of Karna Moksam or Karna’s Death 1
Appendix: Kutumpakkatai or the Family Story 238
Glossary of words, place names, personal names and epithets 249
Bibliography 259

 

Sample Pages

















Karna’s Death (A Play By Pukalentippulavar)

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Conventions

With a few exceptions, Tamil words used in the Introduction follow the transcriptions of the Tamil Lexicon and Sanskrit terms the transcriptions found in most Sanskrit dictionaries. Terms of Indian origin, which are listed in The Concise Oxford Dictionary, are given in their English forms. For the sake of readability, diacritics have not been used in the translation. However, the transcriptions of Tamil and Sanskrit terms with diacritics, and their explanations, can be found in the Glossary at the end of the book. The names of epic characters in the translation will normally be given in their Sanskrit spelling, for example Karna, Arjuna, Krsna, even in cases where the performers pronunciation was closer to the Tamil than to the Sanskrit (for instance Callahan has been rendered as Salya). Names of local epic characters and local place names are provided in their Tamil form, for example Ponnuruvi and Ilaiyanar Velur. Names of individuals are given in their Tamil form, in the spelling preferred by the individual.

 

Introduction

The tragic story of Kania’s life and death on the battlefield is one of the most sensitive and expressive episodes of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata&. It has been highlighted in different media of expression, including many of the traditional Indian theatre and dance forms, puppetry, printed chapbooks, the regional cinema, and television. The performance tradition to which this version of the story of Karna belongs is known as Kattaikküttu or Terukkuttu. It is an important form of folk theatre in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu in South India. In this tradition the play recounting Karna’s life and death is called Karna Mãksam or Karna’s Death2. Karna’ s defeat at the hands of his half-brother Arjuna is one of the climactic events in the final war between the one hundred Kaurava and the five Phndava brothers, which forms the main theme of the Mahdbharata. Unlike Arjuna, who clearly belongs to the Pandavas, Karna has conflicting loyalties. Arjuna and Karna are both sons of Kuntl. Karna, however, was born before Kunti’s marriage to Pãnclu. His mother abandoned him and he later joined the Kauravas. The central part of the play deals with the confrontation between Karna and his wife, Ponnuruvi, before he leaves for the battlefield. It highlights Karna’s complex and problematic relationship with his wife, and, indirectly, with his mother and the Pgndavas, as well as his fidelity towards his friend Duryodhana, the oldest of the Kauravas. Much of the dramatic action is determined by Karna’s psychological conflicts which arise from the fact that his royal descent and his relationship to the Pãndavas remain unknown to many, as well as from the main quality in his character, generosity—a quality which ultimately compels him to give up his own life.

Karna ‘s Death is a very popular play. All the companies I encountered during my six years of fieldwork had it in their repertoire. The play is usually attributed to the poet Puka!ënti3. An author of this name probably lived in the twelfth century, but it seems unlikely that he was the composer of the Kattaikküttu story. The name Pukalënti or Puka!ntippulavar has been attached to many epic plays and folk ballads which in all likelihood have been written by different authors. While the identity of the author of the play thus remained vague, several contributions from earlier generations of well-known, local KattaikkUttu actors were also used in the performance. They can be identified on the basis of the authors’ names, which appear as “signatures” in the last lines of these compositions.

Kattaikküttu

The social and historical background of the theatre The version of Karna Moccasin presented here belongs to the performance tradition of the Peruñkattür Pounce Netback Maram. This long-established, professional KattaikkUtru company is based in the village of Pcruñkattür about twenty-five kilometres west of Kanchipuram. All the members of this company are males as Kattaikküttu is traditionally performed only by men, some of whom specialize in performing female roles. At the time of recording Karna’s Death the core of the company consisted of six closely related kinsmen under the leadership of the actor and company-owner, Tiru P. Rajagopal. The core group formed part of a broader “kingroup” of performers, belonging to the Vannãr (Washermen) caste, who served several other local Kattaikküttu companies. The Peruñkattür Ponnucämi Ngtaka Manram included five other actors and three musicians who were not related to the core group and who belonged to several different castes.

Rajagopal’s family has been involved in the Kaltaikkuttu profession for at least four generations. His father, Ponnucãnii, and his grandfather, Canti ran, were KattaikkUttu performers. Kantian’s father, Cuppa Mëstri, must have been a Kattaikkãttu artist as well, but we have no information about him5. The core group’s hereditary involvement with the theatre appears to have grown out of their locality-specific rights-cum-obligations to perform dramatic spectacles as part of a complex of ritual tasks. These tasks were associated with the position of the core-group as one of the local service castes; they often dealt with the handling of “impurity” during important events of the life-cycle, in particular funeral rites, anti during festivals for local goddesses. Until about thirty-five years ago these rights-cura-obligations determined the long-standing relationships between a performer, or a particular group of related performers, and their patrons. Though these relationships were characid Examples theorized by reciprocity and interdependence, the performers usually occupied a socially and economically inferior status. In my fieldwork area dramatic spectacles to which the system of right scum-obligations applied included two types of performances: 6 the processional Terracotta and the artistically more complex Kattaikkottu. Terracotta is a mobile form lacking a specific narrative content. It used to be performed by two actors who moved along the streets of a village as part of the procession of a local goddess. Kattaikküttu constitutes fully-fledged, all-night theatre with an elaborate cast and a story repertoire, the performances of which are confined to a well-defined performance area. Vannär performers used to act in both Terukkuttu, which took place during the day, and in Kattaikkuttu staged at night. Of the two, KattaikkUttu performances acquired greater prestige and became economically more attractive. This led to performers abandoning Terukküttu in favour of KattaikkOttu performances. As a corollary of this development, the name TerukkUttu appears to have been extended to include performances of the latter type as’ well. In order to distinguish between the two types of performance genres, however, I prefer to use KattaikkUttu to refer to fully-fledged, all-night, narrative performances and Terukkottu to refer to mobile, processional theatre.

The erosion of the system of rights-cum-obligations to perform and the abandoning of the practice of Terukktittu form part of a broader process of change comprising the disengagement of the tradition from its organic embedding in the social and ritual village organization and its transition towards a more autonomous and more professional regional theatre form. This process has resulted in a commercialization of the relationships between performers and sponsors and between performers and company owners, greater professionalism and an emerging institutionalization of the tradition. These developments, together with changing audience demands, have helped to shape the unique performance style, emphasizing the heroic and virile identity of the theatre’s principal characters, the kattai vësams, who characterize present-day KattaikkOttu in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu. This style is furthermore marked by specialization in a Mahabharata repertoire and the monopolization of ritual performance contexts, such as Paratam (Mahãbhãrata) festivals.

 

Contents

 

Acknowledgements vii
Conventions ix
Introduction xi
List of character xxxvii
Tamil transcription and English translation of Karna Moksam or Karna’s Death 1
Appendix: Kutumpakkatai or the Family Story 238
Glossary of words, place names, personal names and epithets 249
Bibliography 259

 

Sample Pages

















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