>Travel Pictures


Kerala - Kathakali Dance

Fort Kochi - Kathakali dance - Backwaters - Alleppey - Ferry Ride - Varkala - Kovalam - Fishermen - Trivandrum
One of the must-see highlights of a visit to Kerala is a performance of the traditional Kathakali dance. A mixture of music, acting, and dance, these stories from Hindu mythology used to be held in temple performances that would last all night. Thanks to a realization of the shorter attention span enjoyed by modern tourists, both Indian and foreign, quite a number of cultural centers around Kerala now put on performances that are about two hours altogether.


One of the interesting aspects of this was the fact that putting on the make up is actually part of the show. Two hours before the scheduled start, the actors come out on stage and painstakingly apply the natural herbal dyes and pastes that establish each actor's distinctive character.


After the base makeup was on, the actors went backstage to continue getting ready by putting on their costumes. To the rhythmic beats of drums, all the theater cats scooted away from the stage and scrambled up the woven walls (above).

One of the actors, who was playing a female in this production, came out to give the audience and introduction to the different styles of dancing, the different hand movements and their meanings, and the different facial expressions that were traditional to the dance style (Breck remarked after the presentation, "I'm a little sad, because I can't remember what all the different hand wavings meant!") (top right)

An extended drum symphony followed, complete with cymbal solos and drum demonstrations. We were all impressed by the finger and hand dexterity, but we were also all ready for the true show to start.


And then it did begin. The story itself was an edited and revised version of a story from the Ramayana, one of India's most ancient and important texts. The main characters are the hero prince Ram - above left with the green paint signifying heroism and the white fan indicating that he is an Immortal - and the temptress demon Surpanakha disguised as a beautiful maiden. 

The short version of the story is that Surpanakha, while out doing evil deeds one day, saw Ram and fell in love with him. She twittered and danced and did all sorts of flirtatious spinnings in an attempt to get him to notice her.

But Ram was a honorable man. He rebuffed her advances, as his father had not yet picked out a suitable bride for him, and he would not think of marring his father's good name by presuming to make a decision that was not his to make. (In the 'real' version of the myth, he is already married and not inclined to take a second wife.)

This, of course, made the young girl quite distraught, but the more she begged and pleaded him, the more steadfastly her rejected her. He wanted to, but familial obligations dictated that he not. Finally he got fed up and sent her away.

Then she suddenly returned in her real form - a quick addition of some eye makeup and long hair, and she took on the fearsome visage of an evil goddess. Ram warned her off, but she persisted, implying that - even if he rejected her - she would force him to submit.
So in the end, he did what any self respecting epic Indian hero would do: he whipped out his sword and chopped off her boobs. 
Really - that is what the shorthand version of the play we got said. She let out a bloodcurdling scream (that woke up anyone who might have been dozing of at this point) as she was subdued, and fled to the realm of the underworld, never to return.


(Interestingly, with a bit of research, we've found that this isn't quite the whole story. What basically happens is that Surpanakha goes back and talks up the beauty of Ram's wife to her evil brother, who kidnaps the woman and sets up a great war amongst kings throughout the land. It is all part of a much larger epic story, the Ramayana, akin to the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Odyssey and Iliad familiar to us in the west. All pretty bloody and involved stuff.)

Fort Kochi - Kathakali dance - Backwaters - Alleppey - Ferry Ride - Varkala - Kovalam - Fishermen - Trivandrum

To the main India page
To the Stutz's Welcome Page