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The Biological Nomenclature and the Aesthetic Transformation while performing Kathakali Streevesham by a Male

Acknowledgement - I would like to thank my Guru Sri Sadanam Balakrishnan ji for guiding me through this research work and providing me valuable information for this project. Padmashree Sunil Kothariji undoubtedly helped me in identifying the title for the research when I approached him to kindly guide me. During the course of this research he has added valuable input. I am thankful to Satabdhani Dr. R Ganesh in guiding me through the aesthetics of the research paper. Last but not the least, my another Guru, the pathfinder for this entire research Sri FACT Padmanabhan in understanding the minute technicalities and nuances of stree vesham genus of Kathakali. I am indebted to my present Guru Sri Sadanam Balakrishnanji in guiding me how to estabilish soloism in Kathakali. Various stree vesham padams are modified solo. During the research work, I have discovered various padams which has never been performed in Kathakali and have amended as a means of elaborating the streevesham genus of Kathakali. I am indebted to Kalamandalam Mohan Krishnan Poduval in subsequently guiding me through the musical aspect of Kathakali making me understand the nuances adapted in the usage of ragas for execution of female characters.

Probal Gupta in Stree Vesham – Photo Courtesy - Fotomurthy

The whole topic needs to be discussed under two broad categories:

1) Importance of Streevesham

2) Men performing the roles of women and its traditions – the biological nomenclature

Importance of Streevesham:

Embodiment of a female subject in various moods and settings is known as Streevesham(literally means clothing like a woman).

Indian Classical dance can broadly be categorized under two broad divisions – the ‘Tandava’ and the ‘Lasya’. While Shiva the cosmic dancer is the progenitor of the ‘Tandava’ aspect of dance; his consort Parvati is considered to be the instigator of ‘Lasya’. ‘Lasya’ depicts creation and hence the sovereign of ‘Lasya’ is “Devi”. She is the personifier of ‘Lasya’ and hence known as “Lasyeshwari”. The philosopher saint from Kerala Sri Adi Shankaracharya describes the divine beauty and elegance of ‘Devi’ while paying his encomium to her. She is referred as the “Nateshwari”. ‘Devi’ is also referred as the “ Lasyapriya” in “Lalitha Sahasranama” from Brahmandapurana. ‘Lasya’ is therefore, the dance performed to the accompaniment of singing and instrumental music with actions conveyed through gestures. Legend says that ‘Lasya’ was taught by Parvati to Usha – the daughter of Bana, who in turn imparted it to the Gopis of Dwarka and from the Gopis the art spread to the women of Saurashtra and later to the other parts of the country.

Both the traditions, the men performing the role of men (e.g Chakiyar Koothu in Kerala) and women performing the role of women ( e.g Nangiar Koothu in Kerala) were predominantly in vogue in the Southern parts of the country. However, the presence of Nayika has also its own importance in flourishing a drama as the characterization of a Nayaka would not flourish with out the same.

In APPAN’s 5th International conference, its chairperson Dr. Kapila Vatsayan quoted in her thought provoking speech, “ River Ganges reminds us of the female energy, the divine energy that flows within each one of us. Male and female are complimentary to each other. They interchange but never in isolation. The other is a part of you. The juxtaposition is complimentary. Your journey is from becoming to being.” So we the human beings irrespective of being a man or a woman have both the entities within ourselves. Portraying the female character by a male is thereby exposing the feminity or the female entity which is already there with in himself in a dance or a drama more aesthetically and obviously within the framework of “Natyashastra”.

In a country like India where the image of Lord Nataraja is worshipped and where the theory of the origin of cross dressing goes back to the bygone days when Vishnu donned the drag to emerge as Mohini, the boycott of the male dancer could not have continued for long. With the advent of the Bhakti Tradition in the 12th Century (of which singing and dancing were inseparable), held that all devotees were but women(Prakriti) and the deity was the only male (Purusha). Thus the ‘Sakhi Bhava’ came into picture when the male devotees including Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who used to consider themselves as the devotees to the Supreme Purusha – Lord Krishna.

Probal Gupta with out streevesham costume…… Photo Courtesy – Nishan Das

Probal Gupta in streevesham … such is the nomenclature that it completely metamorphose a masculine man. Photo courtesy - Fotomurthy

Usage of a Peacock feather – the metaphor for Lord Krishna, the dancer artist ( Purusha) portrays himself as Prakriti – Sakhi Bhava ( the devotee of her Lord Sri Krishna)…

From the Koochipoodi Brahmins in the South to the Kathaks in the North, there have been families of dancers going back hundreds of years who specialized in female roles. The practice is even noticed in forms like “Sakhianat” in Gotipua, “Bhamakalapam” in Kuchipudi, Chindu Yakshagana from Andra Pradesh, Yakshagana from Karnataka, Koodiyattam and Kathakali from Kerala and various other folk forms of both North and South like Ramleela, Chaau, Terukkuttu and so on. Thus when a hairy chested Vedantam Satyanarayana Sharma or the Masculine Fact Padmanabhan spent hours in their makeup to transform themselves into a bewitching Satyabhama in Kuchipudi or an enticing ‘Lalitha’ (Damsel) as in Kathakali, they enters the imaginary spiritual zone in which they actually become at par with the character and hence is the psychological nomenclature. There is a remarkable polarization in the gender roles that has occurred recently. The United States and its allies’ response to terrorist attacks has increased the militarization and the promotion of dualistic fear based discourse. This discourse relies on common stereotypes of gender encouraging people to judge one another on the basis of their adherence to traditional gender expression. This discourse though has become rigid and pervasive, however, we need to work more towards it in all possible ways by identifying more fully with the integration and harmony that art inspires.

Men performing the roles of women and its traditions: the Biologiocal Nonemclature

The Natyashastra (Chapter 35) [ edited version by Dr. Manmohan Ghosh] mentions the role of men taking up of female roles as an ‘Imitative Impersonation’. When a man assumes the character of a woman, the impersonification is termed as ‘rupanusarini’ or in other words “Biological Nomenclature” by the best actors and play directors Like Padmabhushan Kavalam Narayana Panickker. Even during the Shakespearean era, young men were believed to take up the roles of women. Amar Simha in 6th century AD in his Amarakoshamentions the role of the men taking up of female character as “Bhrakumsa or Bhrumkumsa or Bhruukumsa”.

Copyright of Probal Gupta contd…