Kathakali in Ghaziabad
Text & Pix © Thakur Paramjit, Chandigarh

May 10, 2005 

When International Centre for Kathakali, New Delhi, whose troupe has performed in more than 80 major cities in 20 countries, performed in a small temple in Ghaziabad (U.P), the scenario was entirely different. There was no great stage, no hi-fi arrangements, no elite of the society. But it was a show true to its spirit, performed by the dedicated dancers in front of common people sitting on the floor of the temple to witness the exciting dance drama. 

Showing religious compatibility, the temple complex in Brij Nagar has two adjoining temples - the south Indian temple dedicated to Ayyappa and the north Indian temple housing idols of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, and Shivalinga. “We are celebrating ten years of completion of our temple,” said R K Pillai of Sri Ayyappa Puja Smiti. Explaining the concept of the two adjoining temples, Rajan said, “This way the north Indians learn about south Indian religious customs and vice versa.” 

A tent erected on one side of the adjacent road served as green room. A flexible electric wire was extended and a bulb put there to provide light.  A pedestal fan was placed in a corner, but practically it could not be used since the high air displacement created problems for the artists doing makeup. Unmindful of such scanty arrangement, the dedicated artists worked for about four hours to put makeup and get ready for the performance.

Elaborate facial make up forms a high point of Kathakali performance. Each character applies a different kind of makeup. For example, green is the colour for kings and noble characters; those born in high families but having an evil streak are depicted in green colour with red marks on cheeks; anger or excessive evil is depicted with red makeup while devils apply black makeup. 
The dress, headgear and other accessories weigh about 15 kg. Making rigorous body movements and walking on edges of their feet, while carrying this weight is credit worthy for the artists. While presenting religious themes, predominantly from Ramayana and Mahabharata, the artists depict the story with the help of dance movements, hand gestures and facial expressions. Complemented by two drummers and a singer, they dance all night and call it a day in the early morning. However, with changing lifestyles, the Kathakali performance starts around 7.30 pm and end at around 10 pm these days, especially in big cities. In Ghaziabad too, it was held from 8 pm to 10.30 pm.
Performing the role of Ayyappa, Sreenathan exhibited striking facial expressions. “Our initial training is for six years, followed by two years of post graduation,” said Anil, another artiste. Surprised at their long years of learning, Tarun, a student standing nearby, commented, “And we thought that medicine and engineering are difficult fields of learning. Now I feel these are easier as compared to getting expertise in the field of Kathakali!”

Under the guidance of their guru Sadanam P V Balakrishnan, the humble artistes of the centre put up a highly appreciated show. Held on 30th April, it was a simple, down-to-earth performance, devoid of glitter but embodying the spirit of dance.

For the inhabitants of the area, it was a good exposure to the colourful dance drama of Kerala. The spectators included both north and south Indians and they watched the spectacle with full concentration and interest with pin drop silence. 

Thakur Paramjit is a writer and photographer based in Chandigarh.