We got a tuk-tuk to the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica from where it was just a short walk to the Kathakali Dance Show. A small alleyway led to a ticket booth. The tickets cost 350 rupees each (£3.65) and came with a guide to the show in the language of your choice. The performance that night was the Killing of Dussasana, from the Mahabharatha, an ancient Hindu text.
It was a small theatre and quite cool, which was a welcome relief from the heat outside. Seating was numbered and given out on first come, first served basis. We got there about 5.45pm and were about four rows from the front with a pretty decent view of the stage.
The artists (all male) did their make-up on stage. A guide demonstrated how each different colour was made from natural products mixed with coconut oil. The make-up was very elaborate ad colourful, and the artists put seeds in their eyes to make them appear red and demonic during the performance. There are 101 stories and the performers spend six years learning the movements and the music. The actors don’t speak, but communicate with hand gestures and expressive body language, including dramatic eye movements. The accompanying music was from a singer with a set of small cymbals and drummers.
At the start of the show, there was an explanation about the tradition of Kathakali in English, followed by a demonstration of the dancing and the body language. The performers wore elaborate costumes with long metallic nails. The men play the female characters as well as the male, and the colours of the faces and costumes are also symbolic. The story had four characters: Lord Krishna with a Pacha (green) face; Draupadi, wife of the five Pandava Princes with Minukku (yellow) make up; Dussasanna, the brother of the Kaurava King with a Kokkana tadi-red beard and Bhima, the most powerful of the Pandava Princes with Pacha green face and the appearance of a lion.
The Princes have gambled away their wife to their enemy, the Karauvas, and Dussasanna claims his prize by dragging her away by her hair. She refuses to do menial work so Dussasanna disgraces her by tearing off her sari. Distraught, she appeals to Lord Krishna who makes her sari never ending. She swears not to wash her hair until her husband combs it with his hands covered in the blood of Dussasana. After 12 years, the princes come out of exile and in a great battle (which was performed with dancing and batons and was really not very warlike) Bhima kills Dussana, rips out his entrails and drinks his blood. This was well done with red cloth and paint. Then he runs his hands through his wife’s hair (she’s pretty pleased about this). Lord Krishna forgives him for all his murders and blesses their marriage.
Kathakali performances can last around nine hours, but this was just a taster session lasting for around 90 minutes. I found it interesting, but I don’t think I could have sat through a full-length performance!
You can watch a video of the highlights of this performance on my YouTube channel here: