May 7, 2003


Well, the last few weeks on Earth have been interesting to say the least.  Last off I was at the bottom of India.  After leaving on the bus I met a fellow named Anand, a "half-sanyasin" from Canada with Indian parents who is trying to return to the motherland for good.  After some discussion and looking at a map we are on an 11 hour train ride with about 5 families in a compartment for a place called Mahe in Northern Kerala.  A town that feels like a village, beaches that go on for days, friendly folks who have no fears and a provocative man named Chandra who comes out at night, takes you around the town looking at temples and lawyers' houses and then stays up all night asking questions like "Do you know me?" and then "Who are you?".  I won't even begin to relay all that happened in those three days where every moment was near surreal.

Then a dusty and bumpy 10 hr bus ride back south through simply breathtaking land and life along Kerala's coast and hills and I land at Trivandrum for a couple of days to hear some music.  Luckily I caught a glimpse of what these concerts must have been like before amplification.  During the show, the power cuts out (as usual).  Instead of waiting for it to come back, the vocalist continued naturally.  So picture an auditorium nearly full, lit only by four small oil lamps and the only sound is the music and you could hear everything!!...voice, violin, mrdangam, ghatam and tamboura all in perfect balance.  Beautiful.  Then the power came back.

Music finished so I leave for the beach but not before getting myself on the cover of a national newspaper.  On the train north I met a reporter who found my story interesting and later came with photographer for an interview.  Next day I'm in full colour on a rooftop playing the mridangam....only in India I spose. 5 days on a cliff overlooking the Arabian sea, swimming everyday in the ocean and then bathing under a mineral spring from the cliff, turning twenty-six and enjoying it.  But I still move and thankfully.  Onto Kottarakara, the birthplace of Kathakali dancing and the site of a pooram festival.  Now this is some amazing stuff.  Pooram..hmmm let me see.  Picture it this way:

A soccer field filled with a few thousand people. On either end are 11 elephants adorned with brass studded trunk-mask contraptions which look like the eyes of a fly.  Atop each elephant are several men.  One holding up ornate umbrellas and the other these circular, fluffy objects.  In front of each line of elephants are musicians.  Each group is composed of roughly 20(!) men playing a drum called a chenda, 10 playing these heavy hand cymbals, 6 or so playing a reed pipe and 6 more playing these C-shaped trumpets.  You are going have to imagine the sound that came out as I can't describe it.  Slow pulsating rhythms, gradually building in tempo, volume and intensity, spectators clapping and shouting ecstatically until a major frenzy is created.  This happens over and over as each side raises different silken umbrellas to the music and the men with the fuzzy circles are almost dancing.  To the west is a fingernail moon and as always, there is lightning in the distance.

But it doesn't stop there.   Saji (the reporter who I met on the train who is from this place) takes me to a temple.  Actually it is the temple where a dance form called Kathakali was generated by a certain king.  Entering the stage area things are under way.  Actually, for awhile music had been filling the air of the whole town as loudspeakers are broadcasting everything laying a huge blanket over everyone and thing.  Onstage are six men..two playing the chenda, two playing maddalam(barrel drum looking like mridangam) and two playing the hand cymbals.  They are all drenched in sweat, playing back and forth and I think some of their eyes may pop out of the heads with the intensity of rhythm that is being created.  This ends briefly and two singers begin.  I find a place at the front and dig in as these performances go on all night.  A curtain is raised (by two men standing) and a figure is taking the stage from behind.  When dropped you would think aliens have landed.  A kathakali dancer is one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen.  I don't know how to describe...all of it.  The make-up, attire, gestures, facial expressions....the drama.  Faces painted in green, red, white, black and yellow designs, head gear that goes up afoot or so and sparkles, a dress that is about 5 feet in diameter and movements of the hands, face, eyes and body that communicate all the emotions.  And red eyes.  The whole drama accompanied by the drums and voice.  Breathtaking.   Through the night some in the audience drift of to sleep, others smoke, drink coffee and wander around but most stay put and are glued to the action.  Even when you close your eyes for a minute, the jerk of your neck upwards after falling forward is coupled with the image and sound of the dance and your wide awake again.   The all night duration definitely plays a key part in the effect on the viewer (and indeed the performer).  Perhaps more art should be performed through the night!!

  So I figure nothing could top that.  Well, now I'm Thrissur for the pooram of pooram festivals.  The festival here is supposed to be even more dramatic as it is the original.  I'll see for myself in a couple of days....and then off to Chennai for my preparations for going back home (May 15).  a la prochaine....


FEBRUARY 10, 2011
APRIL 11, 2008
MARCH 31, 2006
FEBRUARY 27, 2006
FEBRUARY 22, 2006
FEBRUARY 5, 2006
JANUARY 19, 2006
MAY 7, 2003
APRIL 23, 2003
MARCH 30, 2003
MARCH 9, 2003
FEBRUARY 19, 2003
JANUARY 31, 2003
JANUARY 19, 2003
JANUARY 10, 2003