Each traditional hymn in India, indeed every incantation available, ends with the invocation: Om Shantih, Om Shantih, Om Shantih. Yet Mahabharata, the largest and the most revered epic in India alongside Ramayana, is built upon one unending quest for war and violence, fratricidal battles and relentless bloodbaths that leave virtually no family unscathed. Introspection would show that as many as fourteen principal dramatis personae of this epic had existential crises in their distinguished lives, or had personal crosses to bear all the while, or bore unintended curses on their heads that dogged them down to the end of their sojourn on earth. On a single count by the traditional Sillakeyata Mahabharata of Karnataka, these major characters were: Shakuni, Yudhisthira, Draupadi, Amba/Shikhandi, Abhimanyu, Arjuna, Jarasandha, Dronacharya, Duryodhana, Dussaasana, Karna, Ashwathama, Gandhari and Krishna (deemed God).
Mahabharata, presented (at GD Birla Sabhagar in Kolkata on August 20) by Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust from Delhi, took an especially grand look at the Karnataka musical version of the epic and blended multiple media to bring alive a synoptic panorama on stage that was neatly choreographed all through. Making Karnataka's Togaly Gambiyetta (colourful two-dimensional shadow puppets that use double eyes, a la Pablo Picasso canvases) as its staple, to start with - accompanied by most sonorous singing by the gifted Kannada puppet-artiste Gundu Raju - it soon launched a delightful animation that has seldom accompanied the manual craft and created lines of marching infantry and clutches of flying arrows on the wide screen. There were ubiquitous rod puppets and moppets (human puppets), Kerala's Kalaripayattu and Manipur's Thang Ta, highly ingenious use of Japan's Bunraku (hand-held full-length puppets, operated by two or three puppeteers: clad in black and supposedly invisible) and animated human actors - all moving around with a large dollop of Mayurbhanj Chhau to provide controlled rhythm and aesthetic harmony among characters.
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