Although authoritative expositions of Indian music painting sculpture etc are available in English no adequate treatise has so far appeared dealing with the art of Indian dancing Mr. Iyer’s book on Kathakali has to a great extent supplied this long felt want dealing as it does with one important and perhaps the most unique school of Indian dancing. Apart from the fact that the book is a veritable mine of information on the subject hitherto unavailable it is a graphic evocation of an art from which is yet a living tradition of the people of Malabar on the western coast of India. The author has set this colorful and psychological background and by gradual stages the reader is taken to the very threshold of the stage where are enacted the heroic struggles and other mighty endeavours of the epical gods and titans of ancient India. The whole drama is unfolded before the mind’s eye in all its ceremonious beauty grandeur and sublimity. A section of the book deals with the technique of this highly stylized art which is lucidly explained and much useful material is to be found in the several foot notes which will be of permanent value as presenting a creative appraisal of a magnificent form of living Indian art tradition. The author who is a well known student of Indian art and tradition has brought to bear on this subject his extensive researches and intimate knowledge of the Kerala stage.
K. Bharatha Iyer retired as Assistant accounts officer the accountant general office Maharashtra he was also assistant editor Lalit Kala the Journal of Lalit Kala Akademi. The other books he authored were Indian art a short introduction animals in Indian sculpture and dance dramas of India and the east.
Though it would not be correct to say that Kathakali was a dying art during the first quarter of this century which witnessed a marked decline in traditional values, its popularity was steadily on the wane. A considerable section of the people of Malabar had begun to lookdown upon it as the relic of a less civilized past. It was at such a time that the Kerala poet, Vallathol Narayana Menon, established the Kerala Kala Mandalam (Kerala Academy of Arts) with the object of promoting and popularizing Kathakali. Apart from lack of enthusiasm, this project met with misleading and uncharitable criticism. A similar fate overtook the author and his friends when they invited the poet and his Kathakali artists to Rangoon in 1955. An overwhelming section of the Malayalis who constituted the Committee formed for the promotion of Kathakali, were frankly apprehensive that the exhibition of this` old-type dumb-show’ would go towards lowering the prestige of the Malayalis.
Kathakali has now received wide recognition due to the efforts of several Indian and European dancers, most of whom are internationally known and the appreciations of this art-form voiced by various foreign writers. The Malayalis are now no longer apologetic about it; rather, they are a little too aggressively conscious of its merits. This deepened interest is certainly a major gain, for no art, however great can thrive an atmosphere of increasing frigidity. But as yet no effort has been made to properly canalize this interest. The world-wide recognition which Kathakali has received has had one baneful effect, which we hype is but a passing phase and, therefore, need not unduly worry us. Lured by the success of “modern" Indian dancers, several Kathakali artists have left their native stage and have become “modern" dancers. Having enjoyed the less strenuous and more glamorous life of the modern stage, they are loath to return to their traditional calling. A great deal of what they have learnt through years of careful training and discipline has gone into cold storage, for what they require in their new role as “modern" dancers, aspiring for international fame, is after all very little. Watching the developments of the last four decades and having witnessed the plays staged at the Kerala Kala Mandalam in the thirties, when reputed masters like Kunju Kurup, Ravunni Menon, Kavalappara Narayanan Nair, Verhur Raman Pillai and Kun) an Panikkar appeared in important roles assisted by talented pupils like Kala- mandalam Krishnan, Madhavan, Ananda Shivaraman and great musicians like Venkichan Pattar, Venkitakrishna Bhagavatar, Mootha• mana Nambutiri and others, the conclusion that there has been a fall in quality and that a first rate performance is at present but an occasion-al one needing careful planning ahead, is inescapable. What appears to be of prime importance at the moment is the promotion and preservation of the highest standard. To facilitate this, a Board of reputed I connoisseurs of the art and well known Kathakali artists and the formation of a State controlled institution somewhat on the lines of the Imperial. Russian Ballet run under the direction of the Board would seem to be an urgent necessity. I hope that the Travancore Cochin Government which has a special responsibility in the matter, would consider this suggestion in earnest for the preservation of this magnificent heritage.
In the ensuing pages a close-up view of every aspect of this unique dance-drama is presented. Its evolution and crystallization into a highly developed art-form is traced against the particular geographical position of Kerala and the distinct cultural and social life of the people. The meaning and purpose of the Kathakali conventions, the symbolism underlying its stage practices, the ritualistic and religious character that pervades the play, its definite artistic intention and how that is achieved through a combination of the several elements of the drama, such as the strange make-up, the extraordinary drumming, the song, dance and the mime, are dealt with in this survey. The enumeration and description of the various movements and mudras of Kathakali are outside the scope of this work for they are best learnt from a teacher and are of little help to the reader. Instead, attention is focused on how these actually function on the living stage as an effective means of communication, lending meaning to the canons in the texts and how they emerge as a rich and coherent pattern of boundless and universal significance. No longer can it be said that Indian Natayaa is not functioning in some of its highest forms as envisaged in the ancient texts or that such an achievement is but the memory of a golden past. This work, it is hoped, will help to bring this accomplished dance-drama however remote it may appear at first to those unfamiliar with it, within the common field of their experience and to recreate in a more intense and intimate way the experience of those who have already witnessed it.
This book was completed in October 1946 and was with the publishers ever since. Owing to the phenomenal rise in the cost of production, the publishers felt that it would not be financially prudent to proceed with a publication so purely Indian in character and on a subject so little known at the time. I am grateful to the Royal India Pakistan Society (London) for their keen interest in my venture and for their kind offer to sponsor the publication of _this book which un-fortunately could not materialize as they were unable to find the necessary funds. I am deeply grateful to Beryl de Zoete for her generous appreciation recorded in her book the other mind and for her efforts to expedite the publication of this book. My indebtedness to Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy for finding time to read through the Ms. And for recording his high appreciation, is indeed great. Had not death claimed him so suddenly this book would have been the richer for an introduction from his incomparable pen.
In the writing of this book I have received considerable help from several of my esteemed friends and it gives me great pleasure to acknowledge my indebtedness to them. The superb art of the well known artist Kunju Kurup and his warm friendship have been a source of great inspiration to me. I am deeply grateful to M. Mukunda Raja, ex-Secretary of the Kerala Kala Mandalam and a reputed connoisseur, for his critical examination of the text, for suggestions, for help in securing illustrations and above all for his continued interest and encouragement; to Prof. K. R. Pisharoti and to Miss Alice Boner for suggestions; to Manhar R. Vakil Barrister at law for his suggestions and for kindly reading the proofs to the scholars of the Rama Varma Research institute (Cochin) for their commendation of this book to the late conchin government to kala Mandalam Krishnan Madhavan, Krishnan Kutty of Bombay and to Kunju Kurup for dancing and posing for the special illustrations required to S. Rajam well known artist of Madras who took the trouble of going over the Malabar to prepare the color plates and the several sketches and whose sincere interest in the success of this venture has been a source of great encouragement to thalor venkiteswara Iyer whose several sketches were helpful to S. Rajam to S. Chavda well known Bombay artist for preparing special illustrations to S. Jepson and Alexander Janta for the loan of their photographs so generously placed at my disposal and to Miss. Alice Boner and Michael H. Brown for permission to use extracts from their writings which appear in the appendix to this book. I have taken care to acknowledge the source of the illustrations and if there are any omissions or errors they are purely accidental. Finally I wish to record my thanks to the printers messers E.J. Brill (Leiden) and the publishers who have co-operated in the production of this handsome volume.
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