What We're Doing Now
The first digital interactive Dictionary of Kathakali Mudras in the world has been launched! Created by Kathakali actor, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, Director of the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company, to help people understand a Kathakali play on a deeper level. Before digital cameras were invented Kalamandalam Vijayakumar started to film over 750 gestures used in Kathakali to tell a story.
Technology finally caught up with his vision to create a dictionary that was interactive, easy to use, could be accessed all over the world and would open a door into the abstract language of Kathakali mudras. What an achievement to have created this incredible work!
In the same way Kathakali brought Hinduism to the local communities through theatre, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar has brought the visual language of Kathakali to the world.
photo credit Mark Bennett Kathakali at WOMAD 2015. Actors Kalamandalam Balasubramanain and Kalamandalam Vijayakumar
If you want to learn what these hand gestures mean - please follow the link https://www.kathakalimudras.com/
Our thoughts and sympathy reamin with all the friends and families who have lost a loved one to this terrible virus.
With the roll out of the vacine there is hope for the future, we just need to be careful until Covid is under control.
Here we are in a new year but still due to Covid we are unable to do any live workshops or performances and our work is still on hold until things improve.
We have been doing a few workshops via Zoom including a student in Germany - the wonders of modern science.
Workshops in Germany and Belfast via Zoom
Workshops via Zoom in PORTUGAL
last year we visited St Julians School, Carcavelos near Lisbon, Portugal invited by Caroline Latter, Head of Drama, to give Kathakali workshops and a solo performance,
This year we did our first Kathakali workshop via Zoom for a small group of Caroline`s students and was surprised how successful the sessions were. Whilst an on-line workshop can nevr replace a live session they serve a purpose as we are unable to travel during lockdown. The students were very talented and a pleasure to work with as they learned how a Kathakali actor tells a story through gesture, emotion and characters.
February 2020 to Present Day
The coronavirus is having a devastating impact on thousands of people. The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company would like to offer our sympathy to the people who have lost loved ones and to express our appreciation to the people who are helping others.
Our work was cancelled and our, “Life Behind the Costume” heritage project, based at the Museum of Croydon and kindly funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, was postponed.
The Arts Council of England is kindly supporting us through these hard times through their emergency fund.
A massive thank you to all the people who play the National lottery for generating the income to provide this support. As soon as we get the go ahead Kathakali, along with the rest of the country, will be celebrating - please come and join us.
Watch this space.
December 2019 to February 2020
We have been performing in the temples of Kerala, south India and going back to where Kathakali evolved over the centuries. There is nothing quite like being in a temple, the cool air of the night, the stars in the sky and everyone working together to create a Kathakali performance to include actors, singers, drummers, chutti [makeup] artists and costumers. The downside is the mosquitoes, ants and the heat.
Kunju Vasudevan who runs his family temple in Killimangalam, kindly sponsored by Graeme Vanderstoel, hosted Kathakali and Koodiyattam over three nights. It was great to be working in this old and beautiful temple with shrines over 600 years old and seeing the temple come alive with these sacred and ancient arts.
Seeing Koodiyattam, a 2,000 year old Sanskrit drama, performing stories of Lord Rama brought the majestic dignity of this incredible art that demands your attention. A forerunner of Kathakali it is easy to see how the temple dramas evolved and expanded over the centuries.
Kathakali brought human emotion onto the stage and connected with the very heart of the audience as the story unfolded.;
As all this colour, acting, movement, emotion, singing and drumming filled the temple and the dark night sky with living history.
Kathakali at Killimangalam Temple 20th January 2020 Photo credit Greame Vanderstoel
We completed the Kathakali and Bharatanatyam heritage project kindly supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in October 2019 and were delighted by how people of all ages, abilities and interests interacted with the costumes, saw performances, made masks, received training in costume conservation and how to use a Kathakali costume accurately.
It was wonderful to see children copying the movements of the dancers in the Victoria and Albert Museum`s gardens in the suimmer sunshine, how the costumes stood majestically on the huge World Map at the National Maritime Museum, young people learning about how the costumes move in performance, how to research heritage, create new ideas, apply gold foil onto the wooden ornaments and how important it is to preserve the heritage captured in objects.
Over 5,000 people took part in this project and helped bring alive the ancient heritage of south India.
None of this would have been possible without the organisations who hosted the workshops, performances and costumes displays to include; The Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Maritime Museum, The Halley Academy, ASnet, London, Malayalee Association UK, Henwick Primary School, Plumcroft Primary School, Chestnut Grove Academy, Cherry Orchard Primary School and Southrise Primary School.
Our team of dedicated and experience artists gave their skills to create outstanding events to include, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar, Bhagya Lakshmi and her students, Arunima Kumar, Maruska Svesak, Jane Pritchard and others.
To everyone involved a huge thank you for making this 2 year project a success.
The Lecture Theatre, Victoria and Albert Museum 12th May 2019.
Our Past Events:
Since September 2018 we have been working flat out to research, plan, structure and deliver specially designed workshops, costume displays and performances in the London area as part of a National Lottery Heritage Project featuring Kathakali and Bharathanatyam costumes.
Kathakali and Bharathanatyam Heritage Project
The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company, The Halley Academy London, Victoria and Albert Museum, The Maritime Museum, Malayalee Association UK, and ASnet London want to deliver a project featuring the historical costumes of Kathakali theatre and Bharathanatyam dance from south India.
The Kathakali costumes are the only complete set outside of India and offer a rare opportunity for people to learn about the materials used, the characters they represent and their cultural heritage.;
The project has the potential to release the remarkable history preserved in the costumes, make heritage more relevant and accessible, raise awareness of the role theatrical costumes and clothing play in retaining our history, our identity and defining how our heritage is understood and celebrated.
Kathakali Costumes Gifted To The V&A
A manual of how to use of the Kathakali costumes will be created and left to the V&A, along with our full set of costumes on our death.
This will enable people from all over the world to access Kathakali for centuries to come.
Training for Students at The Halley Academy, London. March 2019
The training took place between 4th - 8th March 2019 where the group explored a different theme each day to build up a picture of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam.
Day 1: Basic introduction to Kathakali including an introduction film.
The group were challenged by such a different way of performing, the ancient rituals involved and the fact that men perform female characters.
Day 2: Focus on costumes, how they are repaired, handling and materials used.
The group became quickly absorbed into the complex study of the costumes applying the gold leaf to the carved wood. They interviewed, and filmed, a costume maker and an actor to learn how it felt to work with the costumes.
Day 3: Comparative study of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam
We did a comparative study of the rituals, training, movements and emotions required to perform these ancient art forms.
In the afternoon they made a mask based on a Kathakali traditional design and saw an example of the three dimensional make-up is used in Kathakali.
Day 4: Social and personal identity: This day was all about the children and their link with heritage. They explored how clothing represented how people live, work and establish a role in society.
In the afternoon they added the mask to the movements they had created and created a short story.
Day 5: Visit to the National Maritime Museum to receive training in Research from a member of the NMM staff, explore how clothing reflects our identity and how to gather Oral Histories safely. They finished off with interviewing a Kathakali actor and a Kathakali make-up specialist using the skills they had learned.
The Study Group from The Halley Academy were given training from a member of the NMM staff in how to research. These skills were then put to the test in the actual museum.
They were given instruction in Oral History how to handle an interview, how clothing captures our identity and how to gather Oral Histories safely.
They finished off working in small groups interviewing a Kathakali actor and a Kathakali make-up specialist using the skills they had learned.
This group have worked with experts in their field and showed maturity and dedication.
4 Open Days at The Halley Academy - 20th – 22ndMarch 2019
included a display of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam costumes, additional classical Indian dancers and solo performances of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam by professional artists Kalamandalam Vijayakumar and Bhagya Lakshmi.
The masks the group made based on classical Kathakali make-up designs were displayed alongside of the costumes.
Members of the training group were able to speak about Kathakali and Bharatanatyam to other students in the school who came to see the performance.
The open day for the community held on 22nd March - 7.00pm - 8.30pm was attended mainly by the south Indian community who were overjoyed to have their heritage celebrated in their local community. After the performance the audience viewed the costumes, met the artists and asked questions.
Kathakali and Anthropology: 11thMarch – 15thmarch 2019
All the feeder schools were exceptional, receptive and full of art and visual stimulation.
The children as young 5 years old explored Kathakali and anthropology increased their awareness of heritage and appreciated the valuable role social history plays in our identity.
In Kathakali they could see the costumes come alive through an ancient sign language telling a story. In anthropology they looked at how clothing developed over 200,000 years and how it captures our history and identity.
In the afternoon the groups changed over. The children then came to see the costume exhibition and performances at The Halley Academy. One teacher said that "the costume display and performances had opened the children`s eyes to a totally different culture".;
11th March - Henwick Primary School:
A school where the arts thrive as projects devised by Denise Jupp decorate the walls. The children had done some designs based on a William Morris wall paper print that will be displayed at the V&A as part of the Open Day.
12th March - Plumcroft Primary School
This school opted for Kathakali only and explored the costumes and learning how a Kathakali character moves and tells a story. Again the school was full of sculptures decorating the walls.
13th March - Chestnut Grove Academy.
A beautiful drama studio and theatre.
The children settled down and focused and related equally to Kathakali drama, the academic information and anthropology.
They were certainly challenged as they were confronted with a different culture and style of theatre but tried hard to learn something new.
Comments from the teacher “In a time where we are encouraged to be divided it was a nice way for students to make connections with a different culture; finding similarities and appreciating the differences".
14th March - Cherry Orchard Primary School
Another creative school with sculptures everywhere indicating that visual learning is popular at the school.
The children were fascinated by the Kathakali and Bharatanatyam costumes, especially the coloured fabric and golden ornaments. In anthropology they shared the stories their items captured.
15th March - South Rise Primary School
Good groups worked hard to understand something about a heritage that was so different. In anthropology they were eager to share their stories within the class.
All these young children were introduced to heritage, many for the first time. They gained knowledge about two classical art forms from south India, an understanding that heritage can travel when people migrate and that history is not just represented by buildings.
ASnet London 2nd, 5thand 6thApril
Training was given for a group of people with arthritis who meet regularly and wanted to take part in this project. The group have been involved in several of our heritage projects including We Are What We Wear  and East Meets West . They are now able to speak accurately about Kathakali from many different aspects.
The group overcame mobility problems to get to the workshops.
The group learned how to apply the gold foil to repair the costumes and made masks based on a traditional Kathakali design.
The Bharatanatayam dance exercises were similar to their yoga sessions and the Mudras [sign language] was comparable to their British Sign Language.
Diane will be meeting and greeting the audience at the V&A and the National Maritime Museum.
These workshops prove that people with disabilities have their own way of overcoming problems. Life is not always easy but they have a determination to maximise their potential. They have an increased knowledge of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam, how the costumes are repaired, the materials used, the symbolic characters the costumes represent and the temple culture behind these art forms. Their moto is “Be Positive.
Kathakali And Bharatanatyam At The Victoria And Albert
What an honour to perform in the most famous museum for costumes in the world – the Victoria and Albert Museum.
People travelled from all over the country to see, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere.
The Lecture Theatre became a majestic place as people gathered round the costumes and took their seats.
Kalamandalam Vijayakumar led the presentation with Namaskaram to establish the sacred foundation of the arts to follow.
Kia Kotti Kali, an ancient dance ritual for women from Kerala, brought Kerala traditions on to the stage.
Award winning classical dancer Arunima Kumar delivered a superb performance of Kuchipudi demonstrating the beautiful body positions of this dance.
Bhagya Lakshmi performed an excellent example of how Bharatanatyam, the oldest classical dance of India, combines movement and emotion through dance.
Kalamandalam Vijayakumar brought the evil demonsess Poothana to life through his superb use of emotion and acting skills..
A brilliant audience and an unforgettable performance presentation.
ASnet, London 18th May 2019
A small audience at The Cranbrook Centre, Valentines Park, Ilford on 18th May 2019 created a magical atmosphere as they sat close to the performers who showed how the beautiful Kathakali and Bharatanatyam costumes come alive through the skills of the performers.
Years of hard physical training and dedication are needed to perfect these intricate performing techniques. Both art forms are rooted in the ancient Hindu text, stories and myths that have enriched the world with visual storytelling for centuries. The group are fully aware that Kathakali is not a dance but a powerful storytelling drama depicting the gods and goddesses as they enter our world.
The receptive audience, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, Kathakali, and Bhagya Lakshmi, Bharatanatyam, brought the space alive with energy, inspiration and something that is beyond words.
Kathakali And Bharatanatyam At The National Maritime Museum 25th May 2019
Even though the World Map was a huge space the costumes looked so powerful and became richer as you got closer. Lots of people came to see them enabling us to reach a new audience that may not have experienced Kathakali before.
Kia Kotti kali and Bharatanatyam dancers injected the space with a living example of classical south Indian culture highlighting how heritage travels when people migrate and take their traditions with them.
Kalamandalam Vijayakumar ,Kathakali, Arunima Kumar, Kuchipudi and Bhagya Lakshmi Bharatanatyam, performed in the Lecture Theatre enabling the audience to discover how three different styles of classical dance drama from south India use costumes and make-up.
Kathakali At Kerala House - Malayalee Association UK [MAUK] 8th June 2019
The Malayalee Association UK [MAUK] kindly hosted an excellent exhibition of Kathakali costumes, 12.00 - 5.00, enabling people to walk in off the street to see something different. Lots of people engaged with Kathakali for the first time.
We made contact with the local library and hope to do some work with them in the future to raise awareness of Asian culture and traditions.
People from different ages and cultural backgrounds came in to see the display.
A group of people, mainly from Kerala, came to the workshop - 5.00pm - 7.00pm - offering a rare opportunity to study the story of Poothana Moksham depicting the evil Poothana attempting to kill the baby Lord Krishna. It was a wonderful atmosphere as the group discussed and learned in depth about this popular story normally performed in the temples of Kerala just before dawn.
We were delighted to see several children with their parents and pleased at how well the concentrated and joined in.
Poothana disguised as a beautiful lady searches for Lord Krishna. She learns to love the baby and doesn`t want to kill him but is afraid of the evil King who is ordering her to do this terrible thing. She eventually finds salvation as she dies because she has been killed by Krishna.
Kathakali actor, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, led the workshop enabling a group of interested people to discover how a Kathakali actor tells a story and explore how the story is told and how the thoughts and feelings of Poothana are expressed.
Kathakali make-up specialist, Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar, talked about the important role the costumes and make-up have in Kathakali.
Documenting Our Kathakali Costumes
I had no idea how much work was involved in the detailed documentation of the costumes required by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Each section of the costume has to be measured, photographed, a detailed discription written, what it is used for, its history and its origin.
Eventually when I, Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Vijayakumar both die our Kathakali costumes have been donated to the V&A to ensure that people can have access to them for generations to come.
All the masks that I made have to be preserved and also documented.
Lots of work to do to preserve these magnificent costumes that have been with us for over 30 years.
Teaching people of all ages about the costumes, the people who made them, preserved them and performed in them has been very rewarding.
We would like to thank the following organisations for their kind support.