Rakesh and I decided to see a performance of Kathakali! “Katha” means story and “Kali” means play. “Kathakali” is the traditional dance form of Kerala that means “Story Play”. The core part of Kathakali is “Abhinaya” meaning “Expression”. the dance is complete expression of range of emotions conveying a story.

The first hour was the display of special makeup made up of by mixing coconut oil with special stones. The performers lie down for an hour as the makeup man decorates their faces. It was immensely humbling to see their painstaking effort for the performance. One of the shocking part of makeup phase was when the makeup man put a special seed in the eye of main performer. This is done to make the protagonist eyes red to show various expressions. The seed stays in the lead performers eyes until the show is over. To become a lead, you have to spend 6yrs playing every part and every role.So, after studying for 36yrs, you get to be the Master. No wonder it is one of the dying art as youngsters today don’t want to take this up.

After the makeup, they explained the various “Bhavas”(emotions) so we could understand them during the play. We were flabbergasted with the lead performers eye movements which synchronized with the drumbeats. His eyeballs rolled like a Ferris wheel on steroids! It was just hard enough watching it. We wondered how hard it must be for the artiste.

The play was called “Keechaka Vadana”- Keechaka’s Killing by Bheem. This is a story from Mahabharata. Keechaka tries to seduce Panchali, wife of Bheem. As Panchali rejects him outright, he slaps her as his ego is hurt. As Bheem learns of this, he decides to take revenge. He pretends to sleep like Paanchali in Keechaka’s bedroom and kills him in the process.

The below is a sample scene.

As we left the small auditorium, we were amazed at how the actors created an entire world in that small space in the stage. The power of art revealed in their dedication and emotion. If you go to Kerala, do not miss a “Kathakali” performance.