News Column

International Koodiyattam and Kathakali Festival held

December 3, 2013


Dec. 03--Artistes give a fine performance of famous Nalacharitham during International Koodiyattam and Kathakali Festival.

Along with the sonorous singing and the rhythmic beats of the cymbals and other percussion instruments, the stage comes alive with the reenactment of ancient fables. The flickering light of the traditional wicker lamp casts magnificent shadows on the backdrop of the stage and it is here where legends of heroes, dieties, kings, anti-heroes and villains come alive.

King Nalan pines for the affection of his love, the very beautiful Damayanthi, while the evil Kali plots to separate the two lovers. The substance of the story of Nalan and Damayanthi is depicted in the Indian epic Mahabharatha.

Penned by 17th century Kerala poet, dramatist, writer, and scholar, Unnai Warrier, Nalacharithram Attakatha was written to suit the artform of Kathakali, making it more dramatic and full of action. Warrier's narration of the story is so long that it had to be divided into four parts, enacted across four nights. However, Nalacharitham is considered the most romantic work in the artform of Kathakali. This epic tale of romance, betrayal, and longing, in its complete form, was brought to life in Dubai at the International Koodiyattam and Kathakali Festival 2013 (IKKF). The festival began on November 28, and concluded on December 2.

Organised at the Gems Wellington International School, the seven-year-old traditional Kerala dance festival took up the very ambitious project of presenting the Nalacharithram this year. "Most kathakali troupes enact only the first day of the story. The entire story requires four days to enact and this does not happen very often, even in Kerala. We began work on it last year and two practice stage shows were conducted before the actual performance. I think this is the first time that this is being done in the region," said Remesan Nambissan, an organiser of IKKF 2013.

Kathakali is noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements, presented in tune with the playback music and percussion. Apart from the four-days of Nalacharithram, IKKF 2013 also had an array of performances like Mohiniyattam, Koodiyattam, and Sopanasangeetham by very well known artistes from Kerala.

The production of the play was organised under the watchful eye of veteran Kathakali artiste and former vice principal of Kalamandalam, Kerala, Vaasu Pisharody.

K.B. Raj Anand, a well-known critique of Kathakali, who also attended the festival, said: "Pisharody is sufficiently stubborn and a perfectionist in the portrayal of the Nalacharithram. It has to be by the books, just like the way Unnai Warrier wrote it. His presentation of the art form is almost like a tribute to Unnai.

"It is an art form that stubbornly focuses on expression and form and Pisharody's experience in the field has made this successful. The characters required to play the roles in the script need to be veterans. Most of the artistes, who enact the roles in Nalacharithram, are usually above the age of 70."

However, Anand said that the current IKKF production employed relatively younger generation Kathakali artistes. "Many of them are in their 40s and 50s, which is relatively young for normal standards."

70-year-old Pisharody, in an interview, said that though trends among Kathakali artistes are fast changing, the basic discipline and austerity required to train in the art form of Kathakali remains intact. A disciple of Padma Shri Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair, Pisharody trained to be a Kathakali artiste from the age of 11.

With highly animated eyes brimming with excitement, Pisharody said: "It is not easy to become a Kathakali artiste. It requires years of hard work and when you think you have learnt the basics and done a few performances, that is when your actual learning begins and by then you are over 50. A Kathakali artiste can call himself one, a true artiste, maybe only after the age of 70.

"It takes a toll on your mental and physical health. And the pain whilst learning will only increase. And learning the art is very emotionally challenging and most parents, seeing their child go through such hardships while in apprentice, would talk the child out of learning the art," he said.

"My own children have not learnt the dance form. But teaching remains the same. It has not been changed to suit the needs of the modern world. Gurus still would discipline the student with a cane if the positioning of his arm during practice is not correct. Only sincere reverence and passion for the dance will make you want to perfect it," Pisharody added.

Dismissing the notion that Kathakali is a dying art form, Anand said that it is still infact, thriving and gaining its ancient reverence and popularity. "Maybe the art form did die out a bit during the times of Vallathol, but even internationally there are several Kathakali enthusiasts. Pisharody himself has had some students from the United States and some European nations. He has performed internationally over 36 times."

IKKF itself aims at promoting the traditional art forms of Kerala like Koodiyattam, Kathakali, Keli, Melappadam, Koothu, Thayampaka and others in the UAE.

"There is immense interest in the art form. But Kathakali artistes have never been a lot that have been marketing savvy. It is traditional to the core, and only enthusiasts can take it forward and spread awareness about the art form. This event itself has been cumbersome to organise -- all the artistes have been flow in from Kerala and it took about a year of hard work to put the project together. But we are a passionate lot," said Nambissan.

The festival was organised in association with the Consulate General of India, Dubai, and concluded on Monday, the UAE National Day.


(c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

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