Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nalacharitham First Day

The story Nalacharitham is written by "Unnai Varier". It is the romantic story of unlimited love between Nala and Damayanthi. The story is such a big one that it is desighed to perform in four nights. The first day is till the marriage of Nala and Damayanthi. The second day is till Damayanthi reaches her father's palace, the third day is till Nala reaches Damayanthi's palace and the fourth day is Nala again gets back his Kingdom. I am sure that those who don't know Nalacharitham, this is vague. So we will see the complete Nala-Damayanthi story.

In Nalacharitham first day, the main charecters are:

Nala - Paccha
Sage Narada - Minukku (Maharshi)
Hamsam(The gold swan) - Special dress with yellow color dress, wings and beak
Damayanthi - Minukku (Lady)
Friends of Damayanthi - Minukku (Lady)
Indra -Paccha
Yama -Kurum Kathi
Agni -Special red color dress
Varuna -Paccha
Saraswathi -Minukku (Lady with a crown)

Even though I have written so many charecters above, you may not see all of them generally.

Nala, the king of Nishadha is famous for his good charecters. He is very generous, kind and affectionate towards the people in his country. He is handsome too. One day Sage Narada arrives at his palace. Nala with great respect and fear, welcomed him and asked him about the reason behind that arrival. Sage Narada mentioned about Damayanthi, the beautiful daughter of King Bhima. He also mentioned that she is well suited to him as his wife. Then sage left from the palace. Nala, who already heard about Damayanthi before from others, now become more affected. His love towards her increased and he is not able to do any work. So he gave the administration responsibilties to his ministers and left to sit alone for some time.

Nala tried to do many activites like doing some instruments, but everything ended up in thinking of Damayanthi. Then he decided to go to the garden. In garden the mell of flowers, the cacophony of birds etc irritates him. At that moment he saw a lot of swans in the pond. He got some sort of relaxation by seeing the swans and he noticed that one golden color swan sleeps on one corner of the pond lonely. Its body is completely gold in color. Nala slowly catched the swan using his hand and the swan woke up with a shock. It tried to flew away from there, but was already in Nala's hand. The swan started crying. the swan told that because of the gold on its body, Nala is not foing to become rich. Nala is surprised when he hear the voice of the swan. It speaks just like a human. The swan also added that its father is died, he is the only son, his wife and children will become widow and orphans. then Nala told him that he don't want to kill the swan. He caught the swan out of curiosity and Nala freed the swan. The swan flew away. Nala again started thinking about Damayanthi. Soon the swan came back and started showing the symbols of affection towards Nala. The swan then told like this,"Hey Nala, I haven't seen such a generous person in my life time. You are a very good personality. As you let me free, I would like to do a favour for you. Damayanthi, the daughter of Bhima is a beautiful princess and she will be the best suite for you. I will do the necessory things for your marriage". Nala replied him to do the needful at the earliest and the swan flew away towards Damayanthi.

The case of Damayanthi was not different. She heard about the good charecteristics of Nala from many people and she was also thinking only about him. Damayanthi along with her friends came to the garden and played for some time. Then she told her friends that she wanted to greturn to the palace. Then her friends replied,"When we were in the palace you told that you want to go to garden, when we are in the garden, you are telling that you want to go to palace. What is this? You see there are beutiful flowers here and very sweets sounds of birds etc.". But for her the smell of flowers and the sound of birds were irritating.

When they were about to return from there,
they saw a brightness on the sky. One of her friends has the opinion that it is the lightning coming down to the earth. Then the other one expressed that it is not lightning, but moon is coming down to the earth. Then Damayanthi told with enthusiasm that it is a Golden Swan which is
flying down towards the ground. She was very happy to see it. She liked the swan and desired to get it. Whenever Damayanthi comes near the swan, it expressed its obedience, whereas whenever her friends came near the swan, it irritated them. So Damayanthi told her friends to go away from there so that she can catch the swan.
Then Damayanthi tried to catch it, but whenever she felt that she caught it, it flew away from her. Thus the intelligent swan diverted her away from her friends and then told her this," Hey do you think you can catch me who flys in the sky? Even though you are young, your childish behaviour is still there. The elder people will blame you for your childish behaviour. I am living in Nala's country teaching ladies "Annannada" (walking of swan) as per the order of Lord Brahma." She was very happy to hear that the swan is from Nala's country. She expressed her desire to know more about Nala and thus the swan understood that she loves Nala. He praised Nala about his good character and also told that Nala and Damayanthi is like Perl and Gold. Also he told that just like Vishnu for Lakshmi, Moon for night, and Siva for Parvathi, Nala is for Damayanthi. Before leaving from there, Swan want to assure the love of Damayanthi. So he told like this, " What if your father gives you to somebody and you also likes him. Then whatever told today will be invain and people will call me useless fellow". Damayanthi replied," Hey swan, why did you have a doubt in your mind. A river flowing will ultimately join sea, a mountain will not think in some other way. Like that my father will not think of somebody else as my husband."

With that the swan left the place. Usually only these much is played nowadays. But the sory has much more. In short, Swan will come back near Nala and will tell about all the incidents happend. Meanwhile heavenly people like Indra who loves Damayanthi will approch Nala and will tell him to go near Damayanthi and tell he to marry one amoung them. Nala reluctantly obeyed their order. Also he got the magical pwer of not being seen by anybody for doing this job from Indra. But Damayanthi informed him that she will marry only Nala. Knowing this, all Devas took the form of Nala on the marriage day. Damayanthi got confused by this and she prayed Saraswathi. Saraswathi appeared before her and informed that the person who touches
the legs on earth's surface is the real Nala, because Devas won't touch their legs on earth's surface. Thus she married to Nala. The Devas took their real form and blessed the couples.

This comes to the end of Nalacharitham First day.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Kathakali - Basic rituals

Let's discuss something about the rituals in Kathakali. We already mentioned a few things regarding the same before.

The standards and customs are standardized by Kaplingattu Namboootiri. As I mentioned earlier, it is basically adopted from Krishnanattam and Koodiyattam.

Requirements on stage

The three main requirements are:

1. Lamp
2. Curtain
3. Stool

In earlier days, when there is no electric lights used, the Kathakali was performed in the light of a big lamp (about 1 meter height). That lamp provided enough light for the performance. So now also as part of tradition, Kathakali performances are done with that big lamp lighted and kept in front of the stage. That lamp usually will be lit by the fire taken either from inside the Temple or from the lamp which is kept in the dressing room (called as Aniyara).

Curtain (called as Tirasseela) is used just like that used for any other drama performances mainly between different scenes. This is usually a multi-colored cloth piece bigger enough to cover the entire stage. Two people will hold it on both sides whenever required.

Stools are required for the actors to sit. It is also used by some actors to stand on it, especially when they want to simulate the chariot ride.

Some other things which are required for Kathakali at the stage are Shangu, Alavattam etc required mainly for Thiranottam (we will discuss this later).


As we discusses briefly before, Kathakali starts with the "Kelikottu" in the early evening (6.00 PM - 7.00 PM usually). This is to inform the local people that there is Kathakali in that evening.
It is a percussion concert.

There are a few items which will be done before the start of the designated play. The first one is the Arangukeli. It is to give salute to Lord Ganesha (He is the Lord who removes all obstacles). This is done by Maddalam and Cymbals. It follows Vandana Sloka (Again praises for God and Saints). This follows Todayam. One or more artists in the training dress will play some steps inside the curtain. Most of the lyrics are from Hindu mythology. Nowadays Thodayam is not usually performed in stage.

Purappadu starts after this. Usually Purappadu is suppose to give a clue about which story is being performed on that day. Usually the Hero and spouse will come and play the Purappadu. So the lyrics will be taken from some part of the first story. Nowadays, Purappadu is being performed mostly by Krishna and sometimes accompanied by Rukmini/Balarama/Subhadra. Basically the lyrics are taken from the story "Rajasuyam". It is assumed that God is satisfied with the Todayam which was performed just before that and they are coming to bless the audience. Some times the Purappadu is performed as Sree Rama and Lakshmana and some times Pandavas and Panchali and even some times Nala and Damayanthi.

After Purappadu is the Manjutara and Melappadam. If Manjutara is to show the ability of Musicians, then Melappadam is the performance to show the expertness of percussionists. The lyrics are mostly taken from Jayadeva's Geetha Govindam.

After this, the play starts. Generally for some characters, there is a ritual called as Thiranottam. This is basically looking by lowering the curtain half down. Regal characters (eg: Ravana, Duryodhana) will do this Thiranottam mainly by their eyes. the strong (eg: Hanuman, Veerabhadran) and bad (eg: Dussasana, Bali) characters also have Thiranottam which will involve more body movements.

That's all for now..................................

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Chutti an essential part of Kathakali make-up

Kathakali make -up will take long time for the completion. It involves the process called "Chutti". This is basically a part of make-up in the face. You might have noticed a long extended white make-up on many Kathakali charecters. It is nothing but "Chutti". It is not easy to do this. "Chutti" by itself is a degree course in Kerala if I am not wrong. This make-up system needs very care and time. Each charecter will have different type of "Chutti" form. For example the "Chutti" for "Pacha" charecters is not te same as that for "Red Thadi" charecters.
There are some charecters who doesnot require this. For example "Minukku" charecters in general willnot have "Chutti" on their face.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The steps of performing Kathakali

Again I am back with something else. I hope you enjoyed the previous posts. Now I would like to discuss a few things about the steps before starting a Kathakali performance.
The Kathakali is usually performed throughout the night. It starts of with the so called "Keli Kottu". It will be usually conducted in the evning to indicate that Kathakali is there that night. In the night Kathakali will start of with " Todayam -Purappadu". It is basically praises of God - mostly Krishna - to get the blessings. After this will be the "Manjutara - Melappadam". It is to show the capabilities of the co-artists and singers in front of the audiance. Then starts the play of a story which is decided to play that day. Usually there will be two or three sories in a day. It can also happen that they may play only one lengthy story that day. It depends on the duration of the play as well as the length of the story.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Kathakali Make Up different types

I hope you enjoyed the last post. Now I would like to post something regarding the different types of dress forms in Kathakali. The major types are:


Pacha is the form of dress mainly used for people who are "Satwik" in nature. Usually good characters like Krishna, Arjuna, Sree Rama, Nala etc. will have this form of make-up. Where Krishna and Sree Rama belongs to a special class of Pacha called as "Krishna Mudi" -means they will have small crown which is decorated with beautiful iridescent blue-green or green colored plumage. Others will wear a round shaped crown. Generally they are good characters.

Katti is used for the charecters like Duryodhana, Ravana who are kings but having bad behaviour in them . They generally belongs to the class of "Rajasa" behaviour. They will generally have a sword with them. The word Katti means sword in Malayalam. The make-up for Yama - the destroyer for all people in the world (of course the ultimate destroyer is Lord Siva) has katti make-up but it is slightly different. When usual katti forms are called as Nedum-Katti, this is called as Kurum Katti. It will have a small black mixed with green make-up unlike usual katti make-ups where the make-up is red mixed green.
Tadi is a general term where there are three different categories for it:
  • Red Tadi (Chuvanna Tadi)
  • White Tadi (Vella Tadi)
  • Black Tadi (Kari)

We will see each one now.

Red Tadi is basically for the charecters having "Tamasa" behaviour. The examples includes Dussassana (brother of Duryodhaha), Bali, Sugreeva, Trigartha (A companion of Duryodhana) etc. who are very rude in their behaviour. They will have a huge red colored beard in their face. White Tadi is for the charecters like Hanuman and Nandikeswaran. They have a white beard in their face. Similarly the Black Tadi charecters have a black beard in their face. The main charecter in this make-up is Hunter (Kattalan - people living in jungle). Some other examples are Guhan in Sreeramapattabhiskekam (Sree Rama becomes the King of his country), Malayan in Nizhalkuttu (Killing using shadow) etc. There is another type of Kari for bad female charecters. They have complete black make-up similar to the male Kari charecters. The examples include Soorppanakha in Ramayanam, Pootana in Pootanamoksham (Moksha of Pootana), Nakratundi in Narakasuravadham (Killing of Narakasura) etc.

Now with respect to Minukku, there are several categories. Ladies, Sages, Brahmins( people belongs to the upper cast in Hindu mythology). They have very simple make-up system as compared to the above described systems.

Even though these are the main types of charecters, there are several charecters having different style of make-up. Examples are Hamsam in the story of Nala-Damayanthi, Jadayu in the story of Rama etc are birds having a beak fitted in their mouth and wings attached to it. Another category is charecters like Valalan (Name of Bhima during the period of Ajnatavasa) and servant in Uttaraswayamvaram (Marriage of Uttara), Mannan (Washer man) in Lavanasuravadham (Killing of Lavanasura). There are some funny chareters also in Kathakali. These jokers are named as Bheeru or Peeru. They will make-up not according to the rules of Kathakali. Some other rare charecters are Angatan in Balivadham (Killing of Bali), Buffallow in the story of Nala, Mandara in the story of Rama etc.

I think that is enough for now. How are you feeling about Kathakali now? Are you getting bored because of these? Then expect something else soon. What can we discuss next?

The basic process in Kathakali?


somethnig else? wait... wait....

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Art forms of Kerala -Kathakali

Every country or region has its own traditions and practices. No place is an exception for that. There are many art forms which are formed and developed in Kerala. I want to throw a light on some of them. It includes the world famous Kathakali, U. N. recognized Kootiyattam, Mohiniyattam etc...

Kathakali is a sophisticated art form developed by Kottarakkara Tampuran. It is formed from many then then existing art forms such as Krishnanattam, Kootiyattam, Mudyettu, Garudan Tookkam, Theyam etc. The basic themes adopted in Kathakali are mainly from Mahabharatha, Ramayana, Siva Purana etc. But there are even stories in Kathakali from the life of Jesus, Sree Narayana Guru, Harichandra, Nala etc. Initially, when Kottarakkara Tampuran formed this art form it contained stories of Rama and hence its name was Ramanattam. Then later on it evolved into all major areas of Purana and the name is slowly transformed into Kathakali.

The basic form of Kathakali is to express the idea through body language. Hands, eyes, legs etc. are very much invloved for the same. The story will be narrated in the form of songs sung by two singers. According to the song, the actor will express his ideas. The background includes special Kerala drums - Chenda, Maddalam, Chengila, Ilattalam, Idakka. The songs are written in the form of a special literature stream in Malayalam called "Attakatha".

Now this is enough...

There are a few questions which I would like to post now:

When will be Kathakali played?
Where will be played?
How is the make-up?
What are different categories of actors?
Who are the veterans in this field?
and a lots more................................

I will post the answers for these after some time.