KATHAKALI : A major documentation of IGNCA

IGNCA has set up a major archival collection which is aimed as a core-repository of original and reprographic material relating to different forms of art. Apart from acquiring already existing, prestigious collections, IGNCA also augments its archival resources by original documentations of the invaluable artistic traditions of India. Among such documentation may be mentioned the choreography of Ramayana by Prabhat Ganguli, Nat-Sankirtana and Lai-Haraoba of Manipur. The performance of T. Brinda, Adhyatma Ramayana by Manikyamma Saride and Kutiyattam by Ammannur Madhava Chakyar.

Recently IGNCA did an extensive video documentation of Kathakali, the classical dance-drama of Kerala. The documentation focused on the rigorous system of Psychokinetic training in Kathakali by which a young student is moulded into a mature professional actor.

Kathakali as a system of training has traditionally been transmitted from master to disciple. The means of transmission is primarily imitation, with the disciple internalising the system by painstakingly practising each nuance and pattern of movement, memorising the texts and concentrating on subtlety of expression and intensity of movement. In the actual perormance, seemingly unrelated peotic, rhythmic whole. The training method of Kathakali can be analyzed in terms of a modular structure, where smaller units of rhythmic and kinetic patterns are linked in regular ways to form larger modules. Training consists in the systematic manipulation of each part of the body – separately and in consonance with each other, to express any subtle or gross nuance of expression, suitable to the purpose of drama.

The documentation concentrated on the training method in Kathakali as a chain of living, inter-related modes of theatric communication. Each Kathakali actor learns the technique independently through long years of training under a master. The first step in training involves the preparation of the body, for in Kathakali, both the skeletal and muscular body are thoroughly exploited to create meaning in the theatre.

In the documentation, the training is given by the masters of the art form, Sri Kaslamandalam Padmanabhan Nair andKalamandalam Ramakutty Nair, undoubtedly the greatest living exponents and the survivors of the most authentic tradition of learning in Kathakali. The docuementation starts with the student offering a dakshina to the guru, applying the oil on the student’s body, and paying obeisance to God. Then follows a step-by-step enumeration of exercises involving each organ and muscle in the body including feet, shank, knees, thighs, chest, arms, wrists, fingers, neck, facial muscles, eyes, eyebrows, lips and so on.

There are chuzhipu or patterns of body movemnt, uzhichil (the rigorous body massage by which the guru stands on top of the student, supported by a bearn and applies varying degrees of pressure on his body and massages each organ and muscle), kalasams (dance movements of varying tempo and sequences) talasmudras, exposition of rasas. The next step is learning the dramatic preliminaries like Todayam and Purappadu, leading to minor roles and slowly graduating to take up major ones. The documentation concludes with two important scenes from Kathakali performed by the masters themselves.

The documentation directed by Shri N. Radhakrishnan for IGNCA serves as a definitive research material on Kathakali and a valuable addition to its archives.

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