Abu Dhabi: Indian expatriates in the capital turned up in large numbers to watch a celebrated Indian classical dance-drama Kathakali during the weekend.
Kalamandalam Gopi, a world famous Kathakali artist, enthralled a packed audience at the Kerala Social Centre (KSC) open-air auditorium with his role of Karna, one of the most complex characters in Indian epic Mahabharatha.
The performance titled ‘Karna Shapadham’ (Karna’s vow) spoke of Karna’s special relationship with Duryodhana, the eldest among the Kaurava brothers who fought their own cousins, the Pandavas, in a historic battle at Kurukshetra.
Gopi, the septuagenarian artist who won one of India’s prominent civilian awards, the Padmashree, for his contribution to Kathakali, has been known for uniquely portraying the emotional turmoil Karna went through just before the battle.
The dance-drama, believed to have originated in the 17th century, portrays characters using stylised hand gestures, facial expressions and body movements that a layman may not easily comprehend. That did not stop Abu Dhabi residents staying in the auditorium and enjoying it until the end. Many of them attended a workshop conducted by the artists the previous day to help them get familiar with the story.
Shakthi Theatres, an Indian cultural organisation, organised the performance, as part of its 33rd anniversary. Dr B.R. Shetty, Managing Director of NMC group of companies, inaugurated the performance.
The female characters — Kunthi and Bhanumati (Duryodhana’s wife) — played by Kalamandalam Margi Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Vipin, respectively, were also impressive. Kalamandalam Harinaryanan played the role of Duryodhana and Kalamandalam Hari R. Nair played Dushasana.
Kathakali is the confluence of acting, dancing and music — vocal and instrumental. Pathiur Shankaran Kutty and Kalanilayam Rajeev were the vocalists. The Karna Shapadham script was written by Mali Madhavan Nair.
According to the Kerala Kala Mandalam, a university in India teaching traditional arts, several folk, ritual and classical arts have exerted a definite influence in the development of Kathakali. It is from the 24 basic hand gestures that the Kathakali actor has developed a language comprising more than 600 words. In five different rhythms and four different tempos, the Kathakali characters unfold the text and the context of a play on stage.
Two vocalists, principal and supporting, stand behind the actors and sing the text of the play. The former marks the rhythmic beat on the gong and the latter on a pair of cymbals. Chenda, Maddalam and Edaykka are the percussion instruments used. The vocal music is in a sense verbal acting which the characters in Kathakali render. The instrumental music is functionally linked to the performance of the actors. Chenda, Maddalam and Edaykka augment the effect of the visual frames in Kathakali. The make-up and costuming of Kathakali is elaborate, intricate and intriguing. It takes three to four hours for an actor to transform into a character in the green room.