Faces of India

Once it was confirmed that I would be working in India this fall, I was excited to see if I could find out more about Indian mask traditions. Quick internet searches yielded little, only some tribal Himalayan masks to the north, and a number of colorful pieces in neighboring Sri Lanka.Talking with some people on the Maya project as well as  other mask friends gave me a few more  ideas about where to look.

Here’s a little of what I found!

Kerala

Kathakali

Kerala is a state in southern India that borders the Arabian Sea.  It is also home to kathakali, a highly stylized drama/dance.  The stories told in this form vary, but many are from the Mahabharata epic.

IMG_1217
Drummers and singers accompanied the characters throughout the performance.

If you arrive early to the performance, not only do you get to observer the performers apply their intense makeup, you also get a better seat. And I’m really glad we did.

Some of the makeup includeds 3-D elements, like the white disc at his cheeks.
Some of the makeup includes 3-D elements, like the white disc at his cheeks. The green faced pacha character is always a good guy in the story being told.
IMG_1200
The makeup is made largely from the powders of different stones, or sometimes vegetable matter, mixed with coconut oil.
This clownish character had a white, flower-like nose attached on top of the makeup.
This clownish character had a white, flower-like nose attached on top of the makeup.

After the makeup was applied, there was a demonstration of the techniques used in the dance. You must train for many years before performing in the kathakali,  and the abilities of the dancers makes this clear.

The way they could move their eyes was nothing short of amazing. Eyes are very important in the communication of emotions in the drama, and these dancers have amazing muscular control. In addition, the performers of kathakali can isolate muscle groups in their face.  Not just like flaring nostrils or wiggling ears—try to imagine just the tops of the cheeks bouncing up and down while the rest of the face remains calm. It’s impressive!

The character designs painted on their faces come alive as these muscle isolations occur. These facial gestures are combined with mudras, or coded positions of the hands, to complete the attitude.

Lord Shiva and Parvati reveal their true nature after a series of comic antics.
Lord Shiva and Parvati reveal their true nature to Arjuna after a series of comic antics.

Kerala Folklore Museum

There are artifacts from throughout southern India, including the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, inside this beautiful building.

 

In Ernakulam, a more modern town across the water from Kochi, I was excited to find a museum dedicated to folklore. There were several interesting faces inside. The museum was not always the most successful in providing context for the various images, but I did start to get a sense of mask styles from different regions.

This beak is part of a costume for the Garuda bird in a Kathakali play.
This beak is part of a costume for the Garuda bird in a Kathakali play.
Costume for a Poothan ritual dance of Kerala.
Costume for a Poothan ritual dance of Kerala. According to wikipedia, Poothan is the lieutenant of Shiva. These dances are performed once or twice year to clean the village of evil spirits.
Another ritual dance from Kerala is the Kummattikali. It is celebrated on the festival of Onam (in Aug/Sept). Again (arrgh) I refer to wikipedia, which categorizes this and the Poothan dance as "devotional"
Another ritual dance mask from Kerala. Again I refer to wikipedia, which categorizes this (and the Poothan dance) as a “devotional art form”. The festival is in August/September, so I missed my chance to see it performed.
Another ritual performance called Theyyam was represented by these painted heads.
Another ritual performance called Theyyam was represented by these painted heads.
After some more research on wikipedia, it seems that these heads are records of some makeup styles for performers of the Theyyam cult.
After some more research on wikipedia, it seems that these heads are records of some makeup styles for performers of the Theyyam cult.
I include some pictures below from the wikipedia article for reference.
I include some pictures below from the wikipedia article for reference.
"Bali theyyam, Payyannur" by Jasinth M V - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg
“Bali theyyam, Payyannur” by Jasinth M V – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg
"Bhagavathi at Vikranandapuram Kshetram, Taliparamba" by prasadnp - PhotographedPreviously published: 2013/04/29. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg
“Bhagavathi at Vikranandapuram Kshetram, Taliparamba” by prasadnp – PhotographedPreviously published: 2013/04/29. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg

IMG_1317IMG_1290IMG_1316IMG_1292IMG_1338IMG_1327

I like the really basic expression in this mask from Karnataka.
I like this really basic expression.
The mask in the lower center, also a ritual mask from Karnataka, seems to build on the basic expression.
The mask in the lower center, also a ritual mask from Karnataka, seems to build on the basic expression.

 

 

IMG_1340
At the rear of the kathakali stage inside the Kerala Folk Museum.
Puppets!

There were also a few examples of puppets in the museum. I knew there were some famous puppets in the state of Rajasthan in the north, but these have a different feeling than their northern relations.

IMG_1299

Spare hands in mudras and extra feet.
Spare hands in mudras and extra feet.
Shadow Puppet from Andhra Pradesh.
Shadow Puppet from Andhra Pradesh.

Karnataka

Museum of Mankind

IMG_2268
A mask from the Limbu people near Geyzing, Sikkim in Northeastern India. It is carved in wood and depicts Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.

We moved on to the state of Karnataka, just north and east of Kerala.  In the city of Mysore, famed for ashtanga yoga and sandalwood crafts, we visited the Indira Ghandi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (aka the Museum of Mankind).

A Mahakal mask from the Limbu of Geyzing, Sikkim. It is a variant of the one in red.
A Mahakal mask from the Limbu of Geyzing, Sikkim. It is a variant of the one in red.

The collection features many tribal art forms from different parts of India. I was lucky to find  included a couple of masks from the Himalayas in this southern state.  The style is quite different form the types I had seen in Kerala.  I imagine the  species of wood used for carving is different as well.

Though I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find as many masks as I had hoped, the museum also features a large collection of terra cotta figures from around India.  These figures provide some insight into the style and decorative idiosyncrasies of the culture to which they belong.

Terra Cotta elephant at the Museum of Mankind in Mysore.
Terra Cotta elephant at the Museum of Mankind in Mysore.

 

Terra Cotta from Bihar, in  the north
Terra Cotta from Bihar, in the north
Sculpture of a woman from a folk community in Karnataka.
Sculpture of a woman from a folk community in Karnataka.

Miscellaneous faces

Street art in Kochi
Street art in Kochi
There are schools on the backwaters of Alleppey, and where there are schools, there are computers. They are guarded by this fearsome beast.
There are schools on the backwaters of Alleppey, and where there are schools, there are computers. They are guarded by this fearsome beast.
At a cafe in Kochi.
At a cafe in Kochi.
Random kids who instantly wanted to be in my picture while I photographed ruins in Hampi.
Random kids who instantly wanted to be in my picture while I photographed ruins in Hampi.
Case trying to speak tiger at the Mysore Palace.
Case trying to speak tiger at the Mysore Palace.
Advertisements

1000 Words Each

We’ve opened MAYA and the kids have performed at two of the three venues already!  Here are some pictures 🙂

Technical rehearsal creep along at Ravindra Natya Mandir
Technical rehearsal creeps along at Ravindra Natya Mandir. oh, look! the Himalayas!
Baby tiger playing ukelele? I'd pay to see this show.
Baby tiger playing ukelele? I’d pay to see this show.
The dance number for "Beast Feast" tries to find its light.
The dance number for “Beast Feast” tries to find its light.
Stopping and starting in rehearsals was sort of difficult for those in more elaborate costumes.
Stopping and starting in rehearsals was sort of difficult for those in more elaborate costumes, but they smiled on!
Few can resist the selfie.
Few can resist the selfie.
The Dadar Gang—Raju, Sunita, Rohit, and Sajida—get ready to watch on opening night
The Dadar Gang—Raju, Sunita, Rohit, and Sajida—get ready to watch on opening night
Glowing. Just glowing.
Glowing. Just glowing.
Puppets that were cut from the show made their way to the photo booth in the lobby.
Puppets that were cut from the show made their way to the photo booth in the lobby.
I thought Astha was going to make the same face. Tricked again.
I thought Astha was going to make the same face. Tricked again.
Prasad as the wonderfully energetic peacock Indigo
Prasad as the wonderfully energetic peacock Indigo. His backstage face looks more nervous.
Priyanka has the most complicated costume of them all. Not only is it large, it has three detachable heads. She was especially gracious with all the futzing it took to get the kinks worked out.
Priyanka has the most complicated costume of them all. Not only is it large, it has three detachable heads. She was especially gracious with all the futzing it took to get the kinks worked out.
Faces at closing circle after curtain call. It's been great watching these kids learn so much.
Faces at closing circle after curtain call. It’s been great watching these kids learn so much.
Moiz has such a stong presence and joy onstage. He is a delight to watch. When he becomes famous, I'll be glad I have this picture.
Moiz has such a stong presence and joy onstage. He is a delight to watch. When he becomes famous, I’ll be glad I have this picture.
Look who came to visit! He was put to work right away during the last days of tech week. And then we had falooda!
Look who came to visit! He was put to work right away during the last days of tech week. And then we had falooda!