Contribution of Puranic period • In the various States of India there are three traditions of storytelling. • The first is the Purana-Pravachana, which literally means, “expounding the Purana”. • The Purana-Pravachana was narrated by the Pauranika, who was an expert in the exposition. • Such expositions are solemn and serious.
The second tradition, Kathakalakshepa where the story is carried through various songs and compositions in different Indian languages like Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi (Tamilnadu-style) • The third is a folk art, prevalent in Andhra Pradesh (a State in South India), called Burrakatha. Burra is a drum that is shaped like a human skull (Burra means skull). • In this tradition, gypsies narrate stories beating this drum. • The Burrakatha storyteller's wife assists him in the singing. • The performers belong to the Telaka or Mutharasi caste and are also called Sarada Kandru (The Sarada people), which means, worshippers of the Goddess Sarada Devi.
In Tamilnadu the folk story tradition is called Villu-pattu, viz., the bow-song. • Krteyadhyayato vishnum Tretayam yajoto maghaihi Dvapare paricaryayam Kalautatu Harikeertanatu • Meaning: In Krta, Treta and Dvapara yugas (different eras in Hindu mythology), one had to do yajnas (sacrificial rites), tapa (penance) and other severe austerities to obtain the grace of God. But in the Kali yuga there is a very easy method to attain God or receive His blessings and that is Harikeertan. • Harikatha, Harikeertan and Kathakalakshepa are synonymous and mean, narrating stories from epics and puranas, interspersed with musical compositions. • Keertan is a very typical usage of Maharashtra.
Northern India • 4th c BC: Kathak (Prakrit verse) Devakumar (Jain canon) • 3rd c BC: Kathak (Sanskrit verse) Devakumar (Jain canon) • 2nd / 1st c BC: Kathak (ref in Mahabharata) • 6th c AD: Kathak (Bana’s Harshcharita) • 13th c AD: Kathak (Sangeet Ratnakar) • 16th c AD: Kirtaniya (Abul Fazl records) • 17th c AD: Kathak (Lochan’s Ragatarangini) • 19th c AD: Kathak (UP, Rajasthan, Bihar etc)
Other categories of male dancers • The ‘rasleela’ tradition of the ‘rasdharis’ of Brindaban (14th – 15th c AD) • The ‘bhaktiyas’, the ‘nrityakalis’ and the ‘jhumariyas’ of various regions of Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh, which had their birth during the ‘Bhakti movement’ (religious renaissance) sometime in the 14th-- 15th centuries, are based on the kathak tradition. • Herein, young boys dress up as Radha-Krishna or Shiva-Parvati and dance out mythological tales.
They were usually accompanied by four or five men beating the cymbals while an artiste gave rhythmic accompaniment on the ‘mridanga’. • Among the dancing boys, Buchanan mentions the ‘jhumariyas’ who danced out the Radha - Krishna sequences in the kathak idiom that was reminiscent of the Raslila. • Boys from the weaver clan called ‘jola’ (‘julahas’) sang and danced to the ‘ashtapadis’ of Geet Govinda. • The ‘kaliadamaniya’ was a rude kind of opera popular in these areas. • All these dance varieties reflected the influence of kathak and its grammar.
Caste of the Kathaks • The Prakrit verses of fourth and third centuries BC indicate the caste of the Kathaks to be Brahmins, evident also from the two verses of the Adi parva and the Anusasnika parva of the Mahabharata text. • It is also pertinent to note that the reference in the Anusasnika parva is not complimentary to the Kathaks. • Here a clear distinction has been made in the categories of Brahmins, as the Kathaks have been clubbed with singers, musicians and wrestlers, indicating the lower position of Kathaks as compared to other Brahmins.
Was it because of the usage of mime and gesticulation that caused this stratification within the Brahmins? • The ‘dharaka’ Kathaks (if one may use the classification of Keith) were also the link between God and man as were the ‘pathaka’ Kathaks, yet seemingly it was the tradition that was devoid of body movements that gained higher position. • It is to be remembered that by then, society was under the influence of Jainism and Buddhism. • But equally true is the fact that there was the system of ‘devakumaras’ and ‘devakumaris’ and the enunciation of the 32 ‘natya-vidhis’ in Jainism. • So was it perhaps a measure within the Brahmin fold to negate the growing influence of the ‘dharaka’ Kathaks who may have held greater appeal among the masses?
In the eighteenth century, a report from Munshi Bhagwandas on a census initiated by colonial masters (the British) corroborates the fact that the ‘Kathaks’ were Brahmins (Kanyakubja Brahmins and Gaur Brahmins) by caste. • Social acceptability: • Kathaks accepted as Brahmins and marriage alliances permissible. However social standing vis-a-vis other professions was a bit lower. • But the women dancers of the medieval period belonged largely to muslim faith and were kept on the fringes of society. • Raas leela performers of Vrindaban: Developed only in the Brahmin society as connected with temples and is performed only by men. Hence social acceptability is similar to that of the Kathaks.
Kathaks of Rajasthan • Kathaks originally belonged to the ‘dholi’ clan. • Today, most of them claim to be Rajputs by caste. • They are considered to be related to the ‘dhandas’ as well as the ‘kirtaniyas’ of Rajasthan, who in turn trace their lineage to the ‘kushilavs’. • The ‘kushilavs’ of Natyashastra were adept in the art of storytelling with enactment, • The subsequent group of performers who were proficient in the art of music, dance and poetry were known as ‘charana’ and has been mentioned in the Atharva-veda.
Amongst various sub-groups of the ‘charanas’, there is one such group of male dancers who perform in temples, known as ‘dhandha’. • There is great similarity in the dances of the ‘dhandas’ and the Kathaks. • There is a saying in Rajasthan that a ‘charana’ child walks in ‘koolha tala’; in other words, he is born with music and dance in his blood.
Census of Kathaks: • William Crooke’s census figures of 1891 indicate the presence of 569 kathaks in Gorakhpur, 215 kathaks in Azamgarh, 210 kathaks in Rai Bareli and 149 kathaks in Partapgarh. • Census conducted by James Prinsep in 1825 and Buchanan in 1814 of the regions of Benaras and Bihar respectively indicate the existence of more than hundred and fifty eight kathak families together.
Koodiyattam, Kathakali: • These dances are performed by men only from Chakyar group that in the caste hierarchy is taken to be quite low inspite of the fact that they are associated with temple rituals. • A very good film on a dancer’s dilemma. • ‘Vanaprastham’, directed by Malayalam director Arun Kumar Shaji.with music by Zakir Hussain. • Vanaprastham in Malayalam means: the renunciation for peace. The film, inspired by a real life story, depicts the identity crisis of Kunjukuttam, a celebrated Kathakali dancer. • His mother hails from a very low caste society and does not reveal the father’s identity to him.
Initiated into Kathakali at the tender age of 10, he proves himself as the most gifted pupil of his guru. • While Kunjukuttan’s recognisation and popularity as a dancer grows, his personal life becomes a saga of tragic existence. • He is tormented for not knowing his father and for being forced into an arranged marriage. • His passionate involvement with a beautiful and mysterious woman who loves him as the epic hero Arjuna and not as Kunjukuttam, brings him to an identity crisis and is the cause of his final annihilation.
Some other aberrations still exist • Famous singer K.J.Yesudas, belonging to the Christian faith, was barred from singing in the Guruvayoor temple. • Kalamandalam Hyder Ali, a Muslim Kathakali singer, was barred from singing in temples • Marriage to a lower caste entitles a Kathakali dancer to being debarred from dancing in the traditional ‘koothambalams’ of the Vadakkumnatha temple in Thrissur.
In contrast, kathak musicians belonging to the Islamic faith, have had no problems of providing accompaniment to dance in various other Hindu temples, be it at Chidambaram or at Mathura, Brindaban or even within the hallowed precincts of Sankatmochan temple in Benaras.
“There is a reverse prejudice working in our society now. Male dancers are today seen as effeminate and not treated with respect. In fact, many families to day discourage their sons from taking up dance when they show any interest in it. It is frightening but true – the male dancer is becoming a near extinct species in India.” • Quote of Sitara Devi