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Amateur Kathakali dance drama at Munnar

Dance , Indian epics

At Munnar, a small hill station 300 kms from Cochin city in Kerala,India, an unforgettable experience awaits you. Here you can see the Kathakali performance of the amateur theatre group in the heart of the town.

After enjoying the breathtaking view of the hills, the drive to the town at the foot of the hills, you make your way to the tiny hall, where these artistes have delivered performances in the night, and in the day they are engrossed in jobs where they earn their small livelihood. Kathakali is an ancient Indian form of classical drama depicting stories of Indian epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharatha.

The tickets for the show, which starts at 6.30 pm, cost rupees 150 each. Watching the artistes dress up in the traditional costumes is an amusing experience. The Kathakali costumes are broad from the hips downwards, and PVC bags are used to inflate the waists. They are going to enact the story of the Ramayana - Kalyanasowgandhikam, where Bhima gets flowers for Panchali.

The 100 seats are rickety wooden chairs. The make up artiste arrives and dons the actors’ faces with vegetable paint. The female actor is also a male artiste and he wears a wig with long hair. In Kathakali dance form, the actors do not speak, they enact the story through hand and facial gestures. There are two vocalists who sing to the accompaniment of the gong, elatham , chengila (cymbals) and the chenda with maddalam. One vocalist cites the story in advance in broken English. This makes interpretation easy and it is sure done to cater to the tourists in the audience.

Kathakali is performed in temples all over Kerala, and also in paddy fields and auditoria, but the amateur nature of the Kathakali group in Munnar makes for a hilarious and moving spectacle. The personalization of the character Bhima, makes one audiences identify with the success of the actor.

The story outline - Bhima, the tall and long-armed Pandava, goes to the forest in search of the flower, Kalyana Sougandhikam, to be presented to his wife Panchali. On the way, he encounters an aged monkey obstructing his path. Bhima in all his arrogance orders the monkey to move his tail so that he can go straight to his destination. The monkey is no other than Hanuman(god) in disguise. The drum beats are completely synchronised with the dancers movements, and at the end - oh! The show-curtain rods collapse on the stage and the artistes are seen rolling in a ball of curtain cloth. This is extremely funny and the audience is in fits of laughter. This is indeed Kerala at its best.
Published: 2009-10-31
Author: Amita Shanbag

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