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Asian Theatre Journal 17.1 (2000) 138-140

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Women's Role in Kudiyattam. By L. S. Rajagopalan. Chennai: Kuppuswami Sastry Research Institute, 1997. 224 pp. Paper Rs. 250.

If you have a chance to witness kudiy attam (the Sanskrit theatre of Kerala State, South India), try to get hold of this book beforehand. Women's Role in Kudiya ttam provides English translations of the manuals that dictate how an actress should perform her role. Acting manuals for kudiyat tam contain the verses (sloka) to be sung, prose explications of these verses, and stage directions. Sanskrit scholars will appreciate the opportunity to read the sl oka in devananagari script. The manual's commentary on each sloka, which L. S. Rajagopalan gives in English, guides the creative choices the performer will make as she interprets the verse by combining a codified sign language of the hands, face, and eyes with stylized movement. If you are privy to the source of the artist's inspiration, you can follow the performance.

Reminiscent of the format ATJ adopts, L. S. Rajagopalan's translations are preceded by background information and accompanied by photographs. (See ATJ 13/1 and ATJ 15/1 for translations of Indian plays from the kudiy attam, kathakali, and terukkuttu traditions.) I was about to use an approving adjective to describe the images, but held back because I took the photograph [End Page 138] on the front cover. Indeed I should clarify my connection with the book before continuing. In his acknowledgments the author states: "I am indebted to Dr. Diane Daugherty of New York whom I used to accompany on her field investigations about women's role in Kerala Arts. This enabled me to gather some information for my papers." Casting himself as a traveling companion understates the part L. S. Rajagopalan has played in my research. Since 1988 he has translated during interviews, rendered material written in Malayalam or Sanskrit into English, connected me with key people, referred me to important documents, encouraged, and corrected. I am one of many scholars whose projects he has similarly aided. Other Americans who have benefited from L. S. Rajagopalan's passion and knowledge of the arts include Farley P. Richmond, Marlene Pitkow, and Sarah Caldwell. Between 1992 and 1994, Rajagopalan held a fellowship from the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute that enabled him to extend work initially undertaken on my behalf and ready the material for publication.

Women's Role in Kudiyat tam was edited by the late S. S. Janaki, a respected Sanskrit scholar known for being meticulous--a reputation her careful oversight of this book indicates was well deserved. As is customary in India, eminent persons have contributed frontispieces that both compliment and complement the author's work. K. Ayyappa Paniker's lucid foreword ponders the unique aspects of Kerala culture that enabled this remnant of the classical Sanskrit theatre to survive and allowed women's active involvement in ku diyattam. In the introduction, K. P. A. Menon attempts to date the emergence of the form and trace the inclusion of actresses.

Rajagopalan avoids speculation as he logs literary references to female performers in Sanskrit treatises. Despite expectations invited by the book's title, the author does not introduce feminist ideology as he explains the matrilineal structure of the families that traditionally conducted kudiya ttam and describes the costume and makeup for various characters. Nor does he delve into gender issues as he recounts legends that testify to the acting ability of famous performers and enumerates the roles for women in the current repertoire. Indian reviewers have criticized the author for not listing roles revived at Margi, an arts institution in southern Kerala that is a seven-hour train journey from his home. Throughout Rajagopalan confines himself to reporting firsthand experiences: what he read in books and manuscripts, what he heard in interviews, what he saw...


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