Evening Entertainment – Kathakali

After an impressive Kalari performance which made the Arien re-think his fitness goals (mine, of course, were non-existent), we had to drive a short way to see the Kathakali performance. We were worried that the program may have started but it had not. I think we were the last few people to enter a small hut-like enclosure which had a dias and very bright lighting focussed on the stage. There were only a few chairs at the back for us. The Arien opted to stay standing with his camera and the tripod so he could take some good snaps.

The comperer was a malayali who wore a veshti, a gold chain, and no shirt. He introduced the secondary character, a woman, who was actually a man made-up to look like a woman, using elaborate make-up. 

The artiste first performed a series of eye movements and then showed us various facial expressions also known as the Navarasams. The comperer explained the emotion that the performer or artiste would convey. Without opening his mouth the artiste was able to convey the emotion/expression.  Some of the expressions are exaggerated but as part of the dance-drama – it is kinda expected. There are some small hand movements known as Mudras. The artiste also enacted a small scene where he was able to invite a member of the audience to sit on a chair placed in the center of the dias. It was hilarious and very well done too. The picture came out blurry so I am not including it here.

The other characters of this dance-drama are equally important. They do not have a role to play in the drama except to provide the music and support the main characters. A drummer, a singer, and a tabla player. The comperer also provided some additional sound by beating on a pair of miniature cymbals. The sound provided can be quite loud – almost deafening 🙂 The comperer spoke in English most of the time but had a malayali accent and so some of the statements were not very clear. His Hindi sounded very much like a south -indian speaking Hindi — usually terrible on the ears. I wished he would stick to English.

The comperer then introduced the primary character, a youth who was the epitome of goodness, nobility, and good looks. Usually, all good characters are depicted in the sattvic color, green, pacchhai. Green is supposed to denote nobility. The evil daemon, Narakathundi, sister of Narakasura, is attracted to this male and takes on a human form to woo him. This role is played by the secondary character who was introduced earlier.

The youth though drawn to her beautiful form as she dances around him, rejects her as he thinks there is something fishy. Narakathundi starts begging him to marry her. The more he rejects, the more Narakathundi begs him. This goes on for a while, she begs him, he rejects her and then she asks him to marry her for 1 day!  

This shocks the youth and he rejects her yet again. This goes on a for a while and the youth rejects her and shows his contempt for her. This hurts Narakathundi a lot. The picture shows the contempt and revulsion that the noble youth feels at her request and tries very hard to shake her off. You can see how Narakathundi is still begging him to marry her for 1 day.

When she realizes that he will not budge, she takes on her demonic avatar. She wants to make him pay for rejecting her and attacks him. The youth apart from being very good-looking and noble is also a soldier and brave man. The fact that a daemon pretended to woo him angers him and he injures her. This later results in a big war between the devas, asuras, and the humans. The dance-drama that we were watching stops at this point. They do not show the war but end the story with the injuring and hurting of Narakathundi.

These pictures came out very well. I was so involved in the dance-drama that I did not check the snaps until we got back to the resort. The story and the enactment was done well. We felt that these artistes have to be encouraged. During the performance, a small kid, frightened by the sounds, singing, and the artistes, screamed and cried till his mom carried him out. Sometime in between, the father was out while the mother tried to catch the second half of the performance. Ironically, children may be scared of the noble pachhai. They may have nightmares in the nights to come and so unless you can deal with a crying child, and the angry Ssshhs from the others, do not attend the performance with young kids.

These artistes also happily posed for snaps with the Audience though I am sure Pacchhai was dying underneath all the paint and the make-up under the bright light. The Arien went for one snap and mentioned that Pacchhai really wanted to change into his normal avatar. We left after that. It was an enjoyable evening.

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Evening Entertainment – Kalari and Kathakali — Part 1

In the morning the guide had helped us purchase tickets for the evening Kalari and Kathakali performance. He informed us that getting front-row tickets would be difficult later in the day and so we purchased the tickets even before we visited the pattumala church. After lunch and a power nap, we were all set to enjoy the evening watching Kalaripaittu (an Indian martial art that originated in Kerala) and later Kathakali (an Indian classical dance-drama that also originated in Kerala). I remembered that the Kalari show existed 5 years ago, when we had been here. This time, armed with a good camera – we went for it full of enthu 🙂

We were there early and the Arien dashed off to have a cuppa chai and bajjis from a roadside shop. I was hopping mad but he came back with a cuppa for me and my anger disappeared 🙂 We went in – we were the first ones. The first thing we noticed was that the seats were all around, above a square shaped enclosure. We would be watching the performance from above. Usually a performer is on a dias – this is the first time the audience was above. The Arien commented on the darkened section of the left-side of the wall. People walked in and the show began.

The performers entered one-by-one and lit the lamps all around. The left-side of the wall – was suddenly aglow with the lights of a hazaar oil lamps. It looked beautiful. After all the lamps were lit, the performers paid their respects to the lamps (guruthara) and then started the performance.

The performers used all the instruments laid out. The performance, the sound of the drums, the smell of the oil lamps, everything served to keep you totally engrossed. Some of the photos appear flat as if the performer is standing with the bar – but he is actually twirling it and the photos are unable to match their speed and dexerity. It was beautiful! I was quite aghast to see the snaps 😦 The performers completed their performance, bowed and left. Other performers followed suit with their performance and so on and so forth. Some of the initial performances were more of a play of hands.

This was followed by a performance which showcased self-defence tactics. It showed one how you can save yourself from a guy with a knife, with just a cloth, very similar in size to a regular duppatta. One performer would play the part of the victim and the other would be the villain with a knife or a stick. The performance showcased that you could handle the villain with ease as long as you are quick and nimble on your feet. The whole performance had a rehearsed-feel to it but was well-done.

There was another performance where the performer was able to do a ChakraAsana (bending over backwards till his head touched the floor) and pick up a flower from the ground. There was a loud burst of applause and an OhmyGod! (I realized I had said it aloud when I noticed the Arien stare at me). The performances required a very different level of fitness and a flexibility that would only come after years of yoga.

There were two performances that were probably the highlight of the entire program and that was the use of fire. The first performance involved twirling those steel bars whose ends were on fire. From the distance, we could smell the fire – it is quite a feat to twirl those bars and the performer did a fantastic job of it. There were a few yells and lots of claps after this performance as well. I noticed that some of the older foreigners had left in between. I had been so engrossed that I did not notice them leave at all.

The second performance was similar to a circus performance. In a circus, they would make the lion or tiger jump through a ring of fire. In this performance, two performers will hold two rings of fire while the third performer would jump through it. It looked scary and impossible – plus the heat generated would make anyone think twice.

After a seemingly easy jump, the third performer swiftly jumped through the ring of fire. The snaps for this performance are a lil blurred – thanks to the swift jump. The other two performers appear quite ok, as you can see.

As you can see, the light was not too conducive for photographs because it was dusk. Also, the movements of the performers were so quick that some of the pictures appeared blurred or failed to capture the beauty of the performance.

The entire performance was totally worth our while. I only wish they had had better lighting. Good photographs go a long way in helping the performers get aid.

After the performance, the performers willingly posed for pictures with the audience. They also allowed the audience to use their bar, shield for their personal snaps.  The Arien did not feel like holding the shield or the bar and did not want a picture of himself. He took this picture of one of the performers. He also took a picture of all the four performers together.

We had the Kathakali performance to get to and there were a few people who wanted to do the routine toursity snap stuff and so we left immediately. I did not want to miss the second half of the evening entertainment for anything.

Pattumala Church and Paranthumpara

We woke up a lil late on the next day thanks to the all-day driving yesterday. So I was quite surprised that we were able to get going at 9 am. We stopped at a small eatery for breakfast. The Arien had a heavy breakfast comprising of “barota” and fish curry. The masala dosa I ordered was so spicy, I had tears in my eyes.

We were now ready to visit the Periyar Tiger Reserve. We drove to the entrance and were stopped by two “guides” who informed us that we will probably see no animals during the boat ride taken at this time. He advised us to come the next day at 5:30 am so we could go on the 6 am boat ride. So the plan for the day was effectively cancelled. While we pondered over what to do today, I recalled that I had seen some information about a church and asked them ’bout it. Nobody knew ’bout the church. The information I had was that this church was like the Velankanni church. Most ppl told me it was in Tamil Nadu – Duh!!  

Finally, one guide mentioned that I was probably asking ’bout the “Pattumala” church and offered his services as a guide for half a day. Both of us were not so sure ’bout this but decided to go with the flow. The guide jumped in and guided us to the church. The route was scenic and though it was a sunny day – the breeze was cool. Behind us the guide chattered on and on and on. 

It was the first time we had started our holiday on a religious note. Both of us were surprised. The church was peaceful and there were a handful of folks inside and both of us felt relaxed. When we came out, we were met with the incessant, meaningless chatter from the guide. The Arien escaped to shoot the church from different angles, lighting etc. I was stuck with the job of nodding my head politely whenever there was a pause. The Arien came back when he was done with his shots – he managed a few black-n-white pics which looked very nice. It was only when we looked up that we noticed the ugly stain in the front of the church. It looked like there had been a bee-hive which had been burnt a while ago.

We finally left the church. While we contemplated returning to the hotel for lunch, the guide mentioned Paranthumpara.   Paranthumpara in malayalam meant eagle (paranthu) rock (para). When we reached the place, it felt like we had reached the end of it all. The guide mentioned that the place gets crowded during the sabarimala season as the “makarajyothi” can be seen from here. It was beautiful and cool inspite of the hot sun. The Arien took a few more black & white pics. I was reminded of a similar place in Lonavla when we visited Mumbai.

An old man selling kadalai walked up to us. The Arien immediately purchased two, one for us and one for our guide. The guide was initially zapped tht we were buying from the local vendor and then happy that he had one packet for himself. For a few minutes, the guide did not blade us 🙂 As you can see the Arien’s fascination with black and white snaps, he took a few more.  

It was a nice place to visit but no shade and hardly any folks around except for the old man selling Kadalai, a few make-shift shops, and two huts. For the first time, we were visiting two places that most tourists are not aware of or did not care to visit and so we had the place all to ourselves. It gave us a lot of photo-ops and not too many ppl spoiling the shots 🙂 

We returned the way we came and drove by a nursery. I think the bright colours of the flowers in bloom attracted the Arien as we drove by. He went a bit crazy and shot a few dozen pics at the nursery. I was forced to listen to more stories from the guide as we waited for the Arien to focus on the owner of the nursery who was trying to sell us seeds of the various flowers that the Arien was so intently shooting. We finally purchased a few seeds and left.  

The second colourful snap of this blog post 🙂 The guide took us to an elephant camp as well but the lady refused us permission to shoot snaps unless we took an elephant ride. Both of us did not want to go on a ride and so we left. The guide had been quite useful. However, his sob-stories did not ring true. He kept talking of his poverty-striken family, the ill-health of his parents, etc. continously. We had already discussed the amount we would be paying him for the time he would be spending with us. However, he expected us to pay him more because of the sob stories that he shared. We both felt that this was his standard line – one he uses for all tourists including foreigners. The Arien refused to budge. The whole incident irritated us rather than made us feel sympathetic. Did not like this part much.