Monday December 17, 2018

Krishnanattam: The glorious dance drama on the life of Krishna

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Krishnanattam_(théâtre_rituel_du_Kerala)

By Meghna Nair

The curtain lifts and artists begin swaying to the beats of percussion instruments like chengila, ilattalam,shuddha maddalam, toppi maddalam, and itakka. The resonating voice of the singers create a wonderful ambience and the life of Krishna begins to unfold in the resplendent glory of Krishnanattam.

A precursor of Kathakali, Krishnanattam is an ancient dance form originated in Kerala and is known for its dynamic costumes, makeup, and beautiful headgear worn by the artists.

The make-up costumes and ornaments used in Krishnanattam are almost similar to that seen in Kathakali, though, unlike Kathakali, in Krishnanattam some characters use painted masks made of wood. Like in Theyyam (another ancient dance form), the faces of the artists are painted with vibrant colours and intricate designs.

Krishnan1

“The beauty of Krishnanattam lies in its rhythmic movements and the dance steps. It is quite different from Kathakali. In Kathakali, there is a lot more of emphasis on the bhaavas (expressions), but here, the steps are more concentrated upon, and the language, being Sanksrit, it is tougher,” explains Navami Namboothiri, a student of Kathakali  in Delhi.

Krishnanattam is mainly based on Krishnagiti, a text of slokas and padams in Sanskrit. This text was composed by Manaveda, who was a Zamorin or Samoothiri (the hereditary title used by Hindu Nair rulers of Calicut). Krishnagiti contains eight cantos of slokas and padams, each of which trace the journey of Lord Krishna’s life.

Krishna’s story, as described in detail in the 10th and 11th cantos of Srimad Bhagavatha, Mahabharata, and Harivamsa, is presented as a dance-drama in a cycle of eight plays on eight consecutive nights, barring Tuesdays.

Each performance depicts the narratives of each canto of the Krishnagiti. The eight performances are –Avataram, Kaliyamardhanam, Raasakreeda, Kamsavadham, Swayamvaram, Banayuddham, Vividha vadham, and Swargarohanam.

Krishnanattam is a product of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement of 17th century and the dance form also was first choreographed by the Zamorin Manaveda of Calicut.

This dance-drama troupe was patronized by the Zamorins till 1958.

PKS Raja (1913-2013), a later titular Zamorin ruler of Calicut, explained, “Originally, the performance of Krishnattam was strictly restricted to the Guruvayur Temple, palaces of the members of the Zamorin’s family, temples, and houses of Namboodiri Brahmins within the jurisdiction of the Zamorin’s empire. Performances outside the jurisdiction of Zamorin were strictly prohibited.”

Presently, the troupe has 54 artistes and is maintained by the Guruvayur Dewaswom board. If one has to book a performance, they have to get the appointment through the Devaswom board as there is no other troupe for Krishnanattam anywhere else.

The recruitment of the artists as young Hindu boys of five years is done by placing advertisements in the newspapers. The boys who can act are selected and are intensively trained.

The members of the troupe are classified into Aasan (the instructor), first grade artistes, second grade artistes and third grade artistes. The retirement age is 60.

Krishnanattam is considered to be an offering of the faithful to the deity. The devotees sponsor each performance to fulfil the desires associated with them.

It is believed that Krishnanattam is inspired by various dance forms that were prevalent in the medieval period. Thus, the critics always complain about the lack of perfection of the dance steps owing to the large number of influences.

Though the dance form is not as popular as Kathakali, it is still extensively performed, despite the inability of the audience to understand the Sanskrit songs, it is popular as an offering to please the Gods.

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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

Hindusim
Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

Hindusim
Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.