Nalacharitham (Story of Nala) First Day

Story Play (Attakkatha): 

The story of Nalacharitham (The saga of Nala) is developed from a small anecdotal reference to the vices of the game of dice in the great epic Mahabharatham.  Adapting this story for kathakali, Unnayi Varrier penned ‘Nalacharitham’ and, owing to its length split it into four parts. This translation from Part 1 covers the scenes that are normally presented on stage. It is not a complete translation of Part 1.

About the translation:- Translating versified literature in Sanskrit to English at best can only result in a bad product. This may be primarily because the Indian sensibilities and ideas differ from the western ideas and benchmarks of poetry and the qualitative assessment of its worth.  ‘Nalacharitham’ is written in a language termed as ‘Manipravaalam’- a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam-with a bias towards Sanskrit. Sanskrit poetry is rich in metaphors and allegories but do not give much importance to rhyming. Malayalam poetry on the other hand is too hung up on rhyming. Writing in Manipravaalam, Unnayi Varrier has employed the rhyming techniques of Malayalam to the already existing complexities of metaphors and allegories of Sanskrit. The extensive and often lengthy use of adjectives and adjectives on adjectives make the translator’s task a lot tougher.

I think English poetry by Western authors use techniques of figure of speech, allegories, personification, metaphors, idiom etc more often than they employ rhyming. But rhyming is still one of the norms that had been used. Notwithstanding the relevance of rhyming or the lack of it in English poetry, I have used it extensively for making the translation more poetic. The metaphors, idioms, figure of speech etc used are not my creations. They are all entirely Unnayi Varrier’s.  So if these techniques look and sound flat in the translation, I am not to be blamed. But I am to be given due credit in the rare cases when they sound apt and really poetic.

This translation is mostly word to word. It is fundamentally for those who are watching the live performance on stage and wanting to know what is being played out. In kathakali format the gestures follow the words-mostly. Any aberration from this norm in the translation is in favour of rhyming. For rhyming, words not in the original text may have been added. These are obviously compromises between making the translation poetic and at the same time not losing out on conveying the meaning. Also, Unnayi Varriers’s Nalacharitham is more suited for singing and listening than for playing and seeing and indeed, reading. Essentially, it is a musical. This is one of its biggest shortcomings when it has to be presented in an emphatically visual format such as kathakali. This translation is not for earning merits in poetry writing. It is meant to be a user-friendly version for those viewers who want to relate the gestures on stage to the words in the verses.

The enacting of a verse in Kathakali is not at all at the same pace of a reader reading the verse. This is because each word in the verse has to be enacted using gestures and facial expressions. This will cause a lag between reading and seeing. But this also results in the verses becoming endearingly slow and musical. 

There are other complications. The Indian ideas of beauty (especially of women) are different from the western concepts when it comes to describing it in literary works-especially in poetry. So you will encounter moon-faced beauties and lotus-eyed beauties. You will also see someone’s feet being compared to a lotus flower etc. These are not to be taken literally.

The verses in Kathakali are usually broken into two parts-the words of the author (narrator) and the words of the characters. Author’s words are normally a Sloka (a four line verse) at the start of a scene. This is mostly written in Sanskrit. These four lines give the context of the scene to be enacted and a brief on the characters involved. The characters’ words are not necessarily of fixed length and are mostly written in Manipravaalam.  In contrast to this norm, in Nalacharitham, there are many verses which are neither the author’s words nor the dialogue between characters. Such verses are expressions of a character’s thoughts. In this translation, such verses are specifically mentioned as ‘in contemplation’ with reference to the character in contemplation.

 

STORYLINE

Nala and Damayanti are the central characters of the story. Nala is a just and able king and Damyanti is a beautiful princess. They fall in love even before seeing each other owing to their respective popularity. King Bheema, Damayanti’s father plans to give his daughter’s hand in marriage through Swayamvaram (Swayamvaram is a system of marriage in which the bride gets to choose her husband from an assembly of suitors). Even the gods and demons are desirous of Damayanti. Coming to know of this, Narada, a rishi respected by both the virtuous and the vicious, feels that there is no one more deserving of Damayanti than Nala and that they are made for each other.He decides to make efforts at uniting them.

 

CHARACTERS:-

 

NALA(NALAN):-King of the kingdom of Nishadha, son of the king Veerasena.

So he is also called Naishadha(king of Nishadha) and Vairaseni (son of Veerasena).

 

DAMAYANTI(Damayanthi):-Princess of Vidarbha or Kundtina, daughter of king Bheema.

So she is also called Vaidarbhi (of Vidarbha) and Bhaimi(daughter of Bheema)

 

Narada(Naradan): Respected itinerant Rishi born out of Brahma, the creator god of the Hindu pantheon. Though notorious for creating friction among individuals, heis also good at public relations.  

 

Brahma:- The creator god among the Hindu mythological triumvirate. He himself is born out of a lotus flower bloomed from Lord Vishnu’s navel.

 

Vishnu:- The god who sustains the cosmic balance in the Hindu mythological triumvirate.

 

Rema:- Also Mahalakshmi, lord Vishnu’s chief consort and the goddess of beauty, wealth and prosperity.

 

Shiva:- The third god of the triumvirate in the Hindu pantheon. 

 

Kamadeva: The god of love and lust-often depicted as one wielding floral bow and arrows. He instils love and lust in humans, demons and gods alike. He is also known by his flag carrying the emblem of a fish.

 

Rati:-Kamadeva’s consort and goddess of love and lust.

 

Hamsam: An un-named, golden-plumed swan acting as the go-between in the development of love between Nala and Damayanti.  

 

(Translated by: Mr. Prasad Govindapuram)