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Reviewed by:
  • Kutiyattam: Sanskrit Theatre of India
  • Diane Daugherty
Kutiyattam: Sanskrit Theatre of India. By Farley Richmond. Interactive design by David Z. Saltz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. CD-ROM $89.95. Web site: <>.

This interactive CD-ROM contains 620 photographs, 147 video clips, and 76 sound clips that Farley Richmond collected during four decades of exploring Indian performance. He saw kutiyattam on one of his early visits in 1969 and, in 1974, began twenty years of research focused on the gesture language of kutiyattam. Richmond publishes his English translation of the Hastalakshanadipika, an anonymous and undated Sanskrit text on the kutiyattam actor's vocabulary of hand gestures, in the appendix of the CD-ROM. The viewer may either read it on screen, save it to disk, or print it. The appendix also offers the handbook of gesture in devanagari script. If you put the cursor over a line of nagari, its English translation is highlighted. Clicking on a picture of one of the twenty-four mudras (hand gestures) in the "Gesture Index" produces an enlarged photograph of the gesture, written instructions for forming the gesture, and a video clip of an actor signing words that use the gesture. This is the first presentation I have seen that would allow someone to begin to teach him- or herself the gesture language that is essential to reading a kutiyattam (or kathakali ) performance.

To navigate the CD-ROM, you click on flowers that run along the left side of the screen. Doing so opens chapters that include general introductions to India, Indian religions, and other performance genres; extracts from kutiyattam plays and performance texts; information about the communities that traditionally performed and witnessed kutiyattam; exhaustive details of actor training for body, hands, eyes, face, and voice; explications of character interpretation, costume, and makeup; and audio examples of the music. If the user clicks on a red word in the written text, a pop-up screen defines the term or offers the opportunity to jump to a section of the CD that elaborates the term. A back button allows the viewer to return to the original discussion.

The black-and-white films of the late Mani Madhava Chakyar showing the nine basic facial expressions (navarasa) and eloquently interpreting a [End Page 224] famous passage with only his eyes make the CD-ROM worth the investment. "Wizard of the Eyes," a piece about Madhava Chakyar by L.S. Rajagopalan, is one of a dozen difficult-to-acquire resources (articles originally published in Indian journals and extracts from unpublished dissertations) that are available in the appendix. In rare footage, the late Painkulam Rama Chakyar, another of the twentieth-century greats, demonstrates the twenty-one eye exercises a kutiyattam artist must practice daily.

The CD-ROM is not without shortcomings. The presentation filled only 8 X 6 inches of my 12-inch screen, so my desktop icons peeked around its corners.Video clips ran in a 2 X 3 inch or tinier window. For this reason, Richmond's CD-ROM is probably better for individual, rather than classroom, use. Running it on a Windows platform, I was informed several times that the program had performed an illegal operation and would be closed. Mac users also report crashes. Glitches aside, both novice and expert viewers have much to gain from these stacks of information about kutiyattam performance.

Diane Daugherty
Kerala, India


Additional Information

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pp. 224-225
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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