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  • Kathakaliyude Kaipusthakam (A Handbook of Kathakali) by Vellinezhi Achuthankutty
  • Vishnu Achutha Menon
KATHAKALIYUDE KAIPUSTHAKAM (A Handbook of Kathakali). By Vellinezhi Achuthankutty. Dubai: Thiranottam, 2013. 745 pp. Paper, $7.80.

This book is an amalgamation of Kathakali repertoire's basic information, geographic setting, demographics, and the critical reflections of Vellinezhi Achuthankutty's experiences from the field. He spent more than 25 years at various institutions (Kalaris) collecting data about Kathakali artists; the book has details of 430 performing troupes and clubs covering 2312 artists across the globe. There are 1544 photographs; some of them are unique and rare, appearing for the first time in print.

Kathakali terms and characters are included; some of the chapters are strictly dedicated to the innate structures of Kathakali performances such as chapters three and four, where he explains Bhavas and Rasas.

This book highlights various schools of performances, technical characteristics, training aspects, and performance sequences of Kathakali in an elaborate manner. Instead of classifying the schools with a personal bias as Southern or Northern, Kaplingadan or Kalluvazhi, the author factually depicts the peculiarities of each style through diagrams and pictures. By the fall of the feudal system in Kerala in the first quarter of the last century, Kathakali slowly started losing its patronage throughout. Small groups started evolving, centred on maestros of art who had social and financial influence. This slowly paved the path towards institutionalization, wherein small troupes were adopted by societies formed by influential organizers and connoisseurs. As a result of institutionalization, the authority of classical arts became vested with those who were easily influenced by commodification and mass culture. Besides the history of the art of six centuries, as well as its present existence under institutionalization, Achuthankutty elaborates the aforementioned points objectively with evidence gained by interviewing masters and collecting literature.

The first chapter narrates the classical arts of Kerala and the uniqueness of Kathakali in the Chadurvidhabhinaya context. This is [End Page 602] followed by chapter two, an evolutionary history of the art that chronologically lists various eras and prominent schools. This chapter includes tables and time-flow charts, photographs of relevant places, and list of proponents of each school. The history of some prominent ancient Kalaris and Kaliyogams like Pindalil Kalari, Kavungal Kalari, Thoppil Kaliyogam, Mathur Kalari, Kurichi tradition, and Changalavatta Kalari is accompanied by interesting anecdotes. Of notable interest in this chapter is the pictorial representation of these styles.

The third chapter deals with historic details of Kathakali. Achuthankutty discusses and lists elements of this dance-drama such as facial depictions of the Bhavas, Mudras, Chuzhippu, types of culminations, enacting verses in the slowest tempo, script, melodies & rendering methods, percussion instruments, facial make-up of character types, stage settings, ornaments, headgears, arms, and costumes with appropriate reference tables. This is followed by a chapter on training processes, the greenroom, the presentation of characters, and the order of customary presentation of seven elements. The next chapter is devoted to general information regarding the theatre, including a list of available plays (Attakathas), authors, choreographic intricacies of popular plays, the rhythmic structure of verses, and a short dictionary on heroes of mythological stories enacted.

The two sessions of chapter six summarize past and present proponents of the art, Kathakali troupes, institutions, and clubs. One of the interesting points of the first session is the anecdotes about renowned artists which are collected and highlighted in small boxes.

The book is quite vast, with 743 pages, but its well-laid out structure and comprehensiveness is commendable. Some of the opinions that the author expresses in this work need extensive discussion, especially when he refutes the existing concept that Kathakali has been transformed from Krishnattam. The most interesting part of the work is the well-elaborated genesis of Kathakali from origin to the current norms arranged in chronological order, with diagrams and timely structures of Kaliyogams, clubs, and artists that adds legitimacy to the work. The process of Bhavas in a Kathakali play is also well studied by Achuthankutty. Passing sessions in the work points to ponder in future research and stand as guidelines for in-depth thought. A Handbook of Kathakali is the result of a scholar with insight, sincerity, and determination...


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