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.