Marks and Sparks in Performance during the Pandemic

Marks an innovative and interactive performance by Abheesh Sasidharan and team is a unique theatrical and performance-based artistic enterprise. It is played before the people from 2021 October 4 to 8. This collective aesthetic venture is performed in collaboration with School of Drama of Calicut University at Aranattukara campus near Thrissur. It is an artistic homage to the legendary British architect who became an Indian, Mr Laurie Baker (1917-2007) who is the master architect of the still versatile and diverse structures there standing in the Aranattukara campus. Architecture, theatre, nature, performance and the people become one in an intertwined aesthetic and truly polyphonic experience.

Marks by Aheesh Sasidharan at School of Drama Trisur 2021. Photo: Ajay Sekher

The whole theatre fraternity and community at the School of Drama are involved in the elaborate moving performance. Techno-art and conservationist politics merge with human rights issues and the critique of the hierarchical society in the context of intersectionality and graded inequality. A scathing critique of power and totalitarianism is the deeply impinged impetus of the cultural event. Animalization and demonization of the human, othering and dehumanization and the biopower and resistance potential of the subjugated form a key contemporary theme that is theatrically explored and multi-vocally enacted from the beginning to the end in deeply intricate and multi-sensory ways. The various little episodes are linked through the narrative/s of motion and change. Truly multi-cultural or polyphonic vision and multi-sensory experiences make it an engaging artistic creation or combined and involved making or production of social democracy and justice at large.

From the performance Marks at School of Drama, a homage to Laurie Baker too

 The concern for humanity, life at large and ecology are thrust areas of this key artistic intervention. The very survival and sustenance of life during the contagion and the the current conjecture involving totalitarian and monopoly formations both in Kerala and India and the world at large become the real setting and context of this ethical and political act of art. A new performance idiom and language of collaborative and participatory action are also evolved through exploring the non-visual and auditory stimuli. Touch, smell, and temperature differences and sensations are also utilized dexterously in the production. Eye masking and sense of taste are subtly embedded into the performance choreography and syncretic text. The whole world becomes players and performance makers in this unison.

Animalization and othering as dramatized in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan at SoD Trisur

Marks leaves deep and engaging imprints of life and art onto the body and mind of the engaged moving audience as they are guided through the dark interiors and starlit exteriors and the drizzling thickets and the wet hedges skirting the old bare-brick architectural ensemble in an island like landscape amidst vast Kol wetlands and paddy fields of Thrissur suburbia. The natural vegetation, huge and meandering mango trees and other wild plants that literally engulf the campus in an ethereal way in the light showers and magical lightning as the gentle rain or rainbow from heaven become the organic arena and real-life props of the performance. The twittering of the birds and their soft landing and cajoling near our ears, shoulders, and neck are mesmerizing and scintillating. The elephant encounter in the blinded play within the play is unforgettable. The smell of the wild tuskers in the humid air becomes part of our senses and reflexes.

Surviving the pandemic through agriculture and culture as depicted in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan

Solar and dynamo-like renewable energy sources are used for lighting and minimal illuminations that sparks critical and creative thoughts, affects and emotions in the audience in intricate ways. It is a watershed in the history of performance in Kerala as its true predecessor Madness done by Abheesh on the short fiction of C Ayyappan earlier in Kochi in 2019 within a moving Ambassador motor car at Tripunitura.

Intimate and multi-sensory peformance in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan at SoD Trisur 2021.

The improvisational and contextually evolving theatrical language used in tandem with the performers who are students and academic exponents of theatre and performance make it unique and historic once again. This collective and collaborative artwork involves and actively engages the audience in creating the music of life and a true polyphony of community and collective survival in the time of the pandemic. Let it be a new beginning for theatre and performance in Kerala after the colossal wreck of the cultural space during the pandemic.

Dr Ajay S Sekher  

5 October 2021.

ajaysekher@gmail.com +91 9895797798

Illikkal Kallu or Pallykal Kallu? The Ancient Rock that Looks Like a Buddha Head in Meenachil Taluk of Kottayam

Illikkal Kallu rock peaks resembling the face of the Buddha, profile with nose, chin and tuft of hair or Ushnisha above. It rises above 1000m at the eastern border of Kottayam district in Meenachil Taluk.

Illikkal Kallu is an ancient rock formation rising to 1000 m above sea level at the eastern mountain ranges in Kottayam district in Meenachil Taluk bordering with Idukki district. Many tributaries of the river Meenachil are also orginating from the grasslands of this rock caped mountain. It is also close to Vagaman mountains and Ilaveezhapoonchira peak. The enigmatic shrub Neelakoduveli is believed to be growing on its crevices.

Illikkal Kallu fallen rock face resembling the face of the Buddha with a tuft of hair above that resembles a lying lion representing the Sakya Simha roaring to the world

The place name Illikkal Kallu refers to Illi or the thorny bamboo. But this variety of bamboo does not grow on such altitude above 1000 m on grass land tops or sholas and rocky peaks in particular on the Western Ghats. It is a miserable mockery that the tourism lobby is now planting a few bamboos there. Only the elephant grass and alpine date palms or Eendu grow on these grassland tops. There are a few giant reeds (‘Ottal or Odal’) in the lower stretches and slopes of this range. So Illi or bamboo cannot become the key element in the place name anyhow. Thus the place name seems to have changed or modified in modern times. Considering the ecological and geo strategic location and proximity to ancient trade routes to Tamilakam or the ancient Tamil Pandya country across the the Western Ghats from the Chera land or Kerala the original place name seems to be Pallykal Kallu or the ancient rock at the vicinity of the Vihara. Especially when we consider the surrounding place names like P(u)allykanam, Elapally and Eendupally it is all the more clear. Pally affix in place names are changed gradually to either Pilly or Pully misusing the British spelling ‘u’ or slight changes in local articulation to erase the history of Buddhism by the hegemonic consensus.

Reclining Buddha in his rocky bed, another angle of Illikkal Kallu. An alteration of Pallykal Kallu as Eendupally and Elapally as well as Pallykanam are surrounding the area in Meenachil Taluk in Kottayam district of Kerala.

Teekoyi which is a small town near this place is also an altered version of Teekovil the pagoda of fire. Kozhikod was originally Kovilkod and Koyilandy was Kovilaandi in the north. The Poonchira another peak nearby is also having a Buddhist connection as the Chira or dams and irrigation bunds for water management in ancient Kerala and Tamilakam were designed and made in eco-conservative ways by the nuns and monks of Asoka from BC third century onward along with their sacred groves or Sangha Aramas that precipitated later as the Kavu culture of Kerala. The elaborate archaeological and ecological relics of Buddhist conservation culture as in Amaram Kavu named after Amara Simha the author or Amarakosa and the ancient rock temple and Gajotama or Ganes temple in Karikod near Todupuzha are reminiscent of the Buddhist age.

The rock faces and formations at Illikkal Kallu or Pallykal Kallu resemble the head of the Buddha in many ways and angles. The face and tuft of hair (Ushnisha) are clear and the tuft also looks like a seated lion roaring, again symbolizing the Sakya Simha speaking to the world. Perhaps that is why the rock was called Pallykal Kallu before the modern age. There were many Viharas or Pallys on the Western Ghats as in Pallykanam or Eendupally on these grass land tops. Kutikanam or the Kanam or wooded grassland top with a Kuti or Pagoda is another example in southern ranges. Many rock heads have fallen. Some rocks look like mushroomed umbrella and are called Kuda Kallu popularly by the Mala Araya tribals. Some are called hunchbacks or Koonan Kallu. It is remarkable to note that Kuda or ceremonial umbrella is another key symbol in Buddhism. The ancient Stupas and gateways carried three, four, five or eight umbrellas. Kodaikanal got its name from the Kodai or umbrella icon of Buddhism. There are Pally affixes in the house names of the Mala Arayas.

Another smaller rock nearby is called Ayyanpara or the rock of Ayya or Arya Buddha. In the middle ages these shrines were taken over by Saivism. Maramala falls is also nearby which is now shortened and distorted in articulation and meaning as Marmala. Mara and his daughter Mohini tested the Buddha with their sensual song and dance and he assumed the down to earth posture or Bhumi Saparsa Mudra peacefully conquering the trials of the senses. There are several places related to Mara in Kerala like Maramon, Maraparambu, Marayimuttom, Mararikulam etc. The traditional percussionist caste is also called Marar or the people of Mara hinting at their song and dance traditions.

This unique geological and eco cultural location must be conserved very carefully from the business interests of the tourism industry and must be conserved for future generations and the future of the river Meenachil and the planes fed by the river.

Photos and text by ajay sekher