Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kathakali in Kochi

"The art form of Kathakali crystallized at around the same time as Shakespeare was scribbling his plays." Lonely Planet South India and Kerala

Based on the Hindu epics, the Ramayana, the Mahamharata and the Puranas, the Kathakali perfomance is a dramatized presentation of one the classic stories. The themes revolve around the ages old conflicts between righteousness and evil, poverty and riches, war and peace.

A full temple performance can take up to eight hours. For the sake of tourists, they perform a cut-down version of about an hour. Frankly I wasn't all that interested in dragging myself out of our magnificent hotel, the Taj Malabar to go anywhere, never mind to a hot, mosquito-ridden theater to watch guys paint their faces green.  The Taj is just splendid - every detail, perfect. I sent out laundry and it returned in a few hours in a small leather case, ribbon wrapped with a flower knotted up in it. Each piece of laundry was tissue wrapped. Nobody gives service in hotels like they do in India. Cannot be beaten. If you call for anything, it appears immediately.

It's suggested you go to the performance venue an hour ahead of time to watch the performers apply make-up and get into character. It was well-worth the effort to get there. The make-up was fascinating to watch. Two men performed - one playing the part of evil, the woman of course. The other man played a righteous and beneficent prince. In addition to the complex painting of his face a band of white material is glued to his jaw bone to make him look fierce. A huge wide swirl of skirt and heavy headgear add to the impressive size and grandeur of the good guy. The whole performance with drums pounding and the performers dancers weaving and bobbing around each other was mesmerizing.

“To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak” Indian proverb

During the course of our travels, we saw two classical Indian dance performances of the Bharatanatyom variety - one, a private performance by an incredibly talented 13 year old girl and the other by two young women. I adored this dancing - athletic and graceful, the girls have to possess an amazing amount of stamina to carry off a performance. Make-up for this also requires more than an hour. The hair is plaited with flowers; they are bedecked with heavy jewelry.  The jewelry has historical purposes beyond the decorative (the cynic in me thinks some crafty jeweler thought these up). The long metal pendants on the ears protect them from the very loud drums; heavy necklaces act to balance the dancers. Belts around the waist support the spinal column. Bells on the feet help to keep the beat, protect the ankles and keep the dancer focused.

The elaborate eye makeup alone must take a chunk of time; the eyes are incredibly important in this dance form. The dances start with a kind of unfolding of the body, beginning with stillness, then a sidelong glance, a neck glissando followed by small slithery movements that end with the feet and the ankle bells ringing in time with the drums. The body is then "alive" and the real dancing begins. 

Before these dancers start, they demonstrate the various movements, gestures and poses that will be used in the performance and they explain what each pose means. By the time the dancing begins you can easily follow the stories. Fabulous.



  1. Beautiful shot of the girl. May I post it?

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  3. I would love to see the dancing. You made it sound so beautiful. Great descriptions.

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