This is one of the ancient dance forms of Kerala preceding Kathakali and Krishnattamkali. It is a ritual dance drama normally performed in a Bhadrakali temple especially in central Kerala. Every year the first performance is held in Kalambukav temple in the Ernakulam district.
I was fortunate enough to see it being performed in the Vishnu temple in Kottakkal where I was undergoing treatment.
The whole temple compound is the stage for the drama.
As with all these types of dramas its a story of the conquering of evil by Good. The devas or gods represent good and the asuras or demons represent evil. They are constantly fighting .Once the asuras were being defeated and they had to retreat to the nether worlds. Two of the women prayed to Brahma to give them boons, and got two sons called Danavendra and Darika.
The boys In turn propitiated Brahma and secured boons which made them invincible to humans, gods and asuras. However they did not ask for invincibility against women.They also got the strength of a thousand elephants. They then proceeded to take over the Heavans and drove the gods out. The gods begged Narada to intercede for them with Shiva. He opened his third eye and the fierce form of Bhadrakali out it. Of course she went forth to fight with Darika.
There are six characters in the drama -Shiva, Narada, Darika, Bhadrakali, Kooli and Koimbidar.
The painting of the faces is all done with vegetable pigments. The head gears are all made of wood and are very heavy. They are all carved, gilded and jewelled. Glass pieces, peacock feathers and even the shells of beetles are pasted on them.
The musical instruments used are the big Kerala drums, two,smaller drums, cymbals and conch. The songs are a mixture of verse and prose. The language is a mixture of archaic Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil. The songs are passed down orally from father to son. They are sung in the typical Sopana style of Kerala. They have a kind of veiled social criticism through a clever use of the words. This is similar to Chakkiar Koothu which is one of the most ancient forms of drama in the world.
Before the actual performance there is something called the drawing of the Kalam which is a pictorial representation of the form of Kali drawn on the floor of the temple in front and to the side of the Sanctorum . This is a traditional art which is normally done by members of the Kurup community.
Before starting the drawing the floor is sanctified with a mixture of cow dung and water. A canopy is made over the place with silk cloth and adorned with flowers and long strips of coconut leaves. The drawing normally takes between two to four hours Her figure is most terrifying . Her gigantic body is jet black. She has three burning eyes and her mouth is like a cavern,out of which two long sabre-like teeth are projecting. Her thick, black, wavy hair rolls down her back like a river in spate. She can have four, eight, sixteen or thirty two hands. Each hand holds a weapon like sword, spear, club, trident and in one hand she holds the bleeding decapitated head of Darika by his hair. Then puja is done to this figure.
After the last puja in the temple the priest comes out and does another puja to the Kalam and finally he smears the whole form and distributes the powder as prasad. It made me really sad to see this beautiful figure being destroyed like this. Surely this must have a moral that nothing lasts forever.
After this the actual performance begins. A huge Kerala lamp is placed in the compound and originally the whole show was performed in the flickering light which must have added to the effect . The only props used in the whole show are this huge lamp, one wooden stool and a curtain held up by two people. The whole temple compound is the stage.
In the first act Shiva and Narada come on the scene. The curtain is a small piece of cloth held by two people. Shiva stands on a stool behind this so that only his upper form is visible. The head of a bull is kept in front of the curtain to suggest that Shiva is riding on Nandi in Kailasa. The divine sage Narada stands in front of him and reads out the list of atrocities committed by Darika.
In the next scene Darika appears behind the curtain and tries to pull it down. He roars and jumps and makes all sorts of gruesome noises. Someone lights up his face with a flaming torch that blazes now and again with a powder made of some gum or resin which creates a huge flare which looks as if Darika is breathing Fire through his mouth. In fact he made a terrifc Impact with his entrance. He tore the curtain down and rushed around in the audience trying to frighten people. After this he ran off shouting imprecations at everyone.
In the next scene Badrakali is escorted by her servants who hold her headgear and rain flowers on her as she walks up. She stands in front of the closed temple door and prays and then she is helped into her headgear. This is called Mudiyettu. It's a very heavy thing and one wonders how she balances it on her head. Very often when she is whirling around or forging forward she has to keep it in place by putting her sword behind her head. Once this has been put she charges forward brandishing her sword. She then goes before the huge lamp and makes obeisance to Shiva and offers the little red flowers from her own headgear to him. After this she goes round the temple followed by the drummers and many of the spectators. The lighted torches are enflamed now and againbynthrowing a special powder made from resin. After this Kali comes to the main arena next to the lamp. Koimbadar and Kooli also come to the forefront. Koimbadar sings hymns to Shiva, Narayana and Saraswati. Kooli is a comic character who mingles with the crowd and makes them laugh with her jokes and antics. These two are kept to lessen the tension of the battle scenes.
In the course of the battle with Darika, the person who acts as Kali sometimes is possessed by the spirit of the goddess and runs amuck. At these times Kooli and Koimbadar restrain her with their jokes. Once it is said that the actor who played the role of Kali could not restrain himself and actually cut off the head of Darika and hence these characters always try to curb her exuberance.
Next is the fight scene in which Darika and Kali fight and chase each other round and round the temple. When the fight reaches its peak Kali's head gear is removed to remind her of her humanity. At last the fight is renewed and Darika's head Is chopped off. His headgear is removed to,denote this.
I felt myself truly blessed to have been able to witness such an ancient art which is seldom to be seen in these days.
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