Special Series: Indian Festival Costumes Issue 5, “The End of an Adventure”

Emma Hollows is a student from Manchester, England, going into her final year at the University of Cambridge. From August 7th to September 24th she spent 7 weeks of her summer vacation in India exploring Gujarat and Kerala to investigate the costumes and make-up of Indian celebrations. During her trip, Emma wrote a blog series for Performing Arts Abroad as she participated in various festivals and attended Kerala Kalamandalam, a performing arts university teaching students the music, dances, costumes and make-up used in festivals.  This is the final issue of this special series, being released after Emma’s return to the UK…

So this is my final blog and the end of my adventure in India. The past seven weeks of vivid colours, spices and intense humidity have been an assault on my senses that has made England seem so bland in comparison. Throughout my trip I have been welcomed into the extended family of India by everyone from my host family whom I stayed with for nearly three weeks, to people I sat next to on the bus for no more than 5 minutes, everyone invited me into their homes to meet their families and celebrate with them.

Emma Hollows Final 1

An amazing patchwork of tea plantations.

After the four days of Onam celebrations finished, I had a few days before Kerala Kalamandalam, the performing arts university where I had been shadowing students to learn about their costumes and make up, reopened after the students’ vacation. During those days I managed to alternate between going to the library at Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi which promotes Keralan performing arts internationally, and doing some sightseeing. I spent one day trekking in Munnar which is utterly incredible. The area is a patchwork of tea plantations undulating across the landscape with villages clustered in the bottom of the valleys. Another day I went kayaking on the backwaters of Alleppey rather than the traditional houseboats which most tourists use. Kayaking meant that we could go down all of the narrow canals which the houseboats cannot fit along but are amazing with vines and coconut trees drooping overhead. The people living in the houses which line the banks of the canals wave and shout hello as they wash their clothes and bathe in the waters.

Kayaking on the backwaters of Alleppey

Kayaking on the backwaters of Alleppey

On my last day at Kerala Kalamandalam there was a Kathakali performance held in the evening as part of a special day celebrating all influential people from India’s performing arts. The make-up teacher invited me to come to the dressing rooms to watch the students prepare. Kathakali is the most famous Keralan theatre due to its elaborate make-up with paper chutti exaggerating their facial structure. The make-up alone takes 3 hours and then the costume can take up to another hour. The performance began at 9pm and ended at dawn. Traditionally Kathakali was performed in the courtyards of temples across the state announced by the musicians singing and drumming on chenda and madhalam. When the dancers enter their movements are slow, controlled and repetitive but get faster during the performance. The bells attached to their legs emphasise each step that they make. Despite moving from temples to now being performed in theatres everywhere, ritual remains an important part of Kathakali performances as each dancer receives blessing from every member of the team who help them to prepare as well as all of the musicians once they enter the stage.

Emma Hollows Final 3

The make-up alone takes 3 hours and then the costume can take up to another hour.

At the end of my trip I returned to stay with my host family in Gujarat for a few days which was wonderful. I really do feel like I have a second family in India now – they have invited me to the family wedding in December so you never know, I may be back in India sooner than I thought!

 Written by Emma Hollows

Performing Arts Abroad guest blogger and costume designer

 

Special Series: Indian Festival Costumes Issue 4, “Onam: an Initiation to Kerala”

Emma Hollows is a student from Manchester, England, going into her final year at the University of Cambridge. From August 7th to September 24th she spent 7 weeks of her summer vacation in India exploring Gujarat and Kerala to investigate the costumes and make-up of Indian celebrations. During her trip, Emma wrote a blog series for Performing Arts Abroad as she participated in various festivals and attended Kerala Kalamandalam, a performing arts university teaching students the music, dances, costumes and make-up used in festivals.  This is the fourth issue of this special series, being released after Emma’s return to the UK…

Oh my word Onam is blooming fantastic! We should definitely have a similar thing back home! Onam is a celebration of Keralan culture when everyone has a vacation from school and work to spend time with family attending parades, Vallam Kali and Pulikkali. The atmosphere is wonderful with music and dancing and everyone enjoying spending time together.

On the first day I enjoyed a traditional Onam lunch of Sadya: rice and pappads with lots of different dishes all presented on a banana leaf before heading down to a local parade. The parade was awesome! Most Onam participants are male, both performers and in the crowds. The women who watch the celebrations do so from the house porches whereas the men and myself were running along with the action – and there is so much to see! Men transformed into women, towering above the crowd on stilts; a jazz band; a team of drummers; theyyam performers; and hundreds of people there to watch. My favourite performers were the theyyam dancers; their costumes were colourful skirts, bells and a huge headdress made of carved wood which so overbalanced them that they had straps hanging down from each side which they could hold on to while jumping and spinning around.Emma Hollows Onam 1

The next day I went to watch Vallam Kali, the Kerala snake boat race. It isn’t quite the Oxbridge boat race – replace a backdrop of London and the Thames with palm trees and the backwaters of Kerala with war canoes boats of up to around 60 men on board. With the sheer amount of men on board, the drumming and the shouting to keep the strokes in time, the excitement in the atmosphere was electric!Emma Hollows Onam 2

At another parade I saw the kummatty performers getting ready in their grass outfits. Grasses are tied into sheets the day before and these are tied around the performer’s entire body crowned with a colourful wooden mask. Wearing clothes under the grass means that it isn’t too itchy but the men had trouble bending at the elbows and knees so had to be lifted into the truck to take them to the start of the parade. During the parade they are having a party dancing, jumping, singing and waving to the crowds accompanied by a band of deafening drummers.Emma Hollows Onam 3

Pulikkali is a tradition originating in colonial times which Indians have now adopted as their own to create an annual spectacle on the final day of Onam in Thrissur and other cities across Kerala. Thousands of men painted as tigers dance their way around Swaraj Round in the centre of Thrissur to the beat of chenda drums. I was adopted by a team and got to help paint them in the morning, although I wasn’t there at 5am when they started because it takes 3 hours to paint each man! They also wear a mask and a belt of bells which can weigh 12-14kg. Running around all the teams dancing and even drumming by the end of the day was so much fun I felt like a kid again! The teams compete for the best tigers, best drummers, best float design and best discipline. Our team won all the awards apart from best drumming so hopefully that wasn’t my fault!Emma Hollows Onam 4

Written by Emma Hollows
Performing Arts Abroad guest blogger and costume designer

 

 

 

Special Series: Indian Festival Costumes Issue 3, “Dedication to the Art”

Emma Hollows is a student from Manchester, England, going into her final year at the University of Cambridge. From August 7th to September 24th she is spending 7 weeks of her summer vacation in India exploring Gujarat and Kerala to investigate the costumes and make-up of Indian celebrations. During her trip, Emma is writing a blog series for Performing Arts Abroad as she participates in various festivals and attends Kerala Kalamandalam, a performing arts university teaching students the music, dances, costumes and make-up used in festivals.  This is the third issue of this special series…

 Sorry for the delay in this next post, unreliable internet is definitely something you have to get used to in Kerala!

For the past 2 weeks that I have shadowed Veena to her Mohiniyattam classes at Kerala Kalamandalam and I have discovered just how dedicated you need to be to become a professional in this business. The students study for up to 10 years at KK with early morning starts from 7am for yoga (4:30am for Kathakali students for their full body oil massages in monsoon season), before a day of classes in their discipline, academic classes and more practice in the evenings. At uni we complain about having lectures at 9am, so these guys are champions for managing 4:30am every morning! But none of the students were complaining, they know what they want and they know that all of this practice is the way to achieve their futures. Next time I want to stay in bed instead of going to a 9am, I will think of Veena and her friends having been up since 5am and already done 2 hours of yoga!Picture 1

Kerala’s performing arts are most famous for the costumes of Kathakali and Kutiyattam with their large colourful headdresses and brightly painted faces. Facial expression is vital because no words are spoken but the actors tell the story through dance. The distinct make up highlights these facial expressions and determine the characters: Paccha (hero) have a green face, while Kathi have green with a red and white pattern across their cheeks and nose, and Kari (demonesses) have black faces with red cheeks and chin. Tati are the bearded characters, such as Hanuman (the monkey god) who is Vellattati (white bearded). Most characters also have a chutti which is made from stiff white paper glued to the face with a rice paste to outline the face and highlight the expressions.

A full size Kathi mannequin in the costume museum at Kerala Kalamandalam.

A full size Kathi mannequin in the costume museum at Kerala Kalamandalam.

The costume students at KK are taught how to make and repair the entire repertoire of Kathakali and Kutiyattam costumes. It takes hours to prepare an actor for their performance with the make up alone taking up to 3 hours attracting audience members to watch in the green room. Kutiyattam costumes have many accessories: armlets, bracelets, a kutalharam (a wooden panel hanging from the waist) and a …………. which wraps around the shoulders and waist. In the past all of this was made from silver and adorned with precious gems which was incredibly heavy and expensive, therefore modern day accessories are made from a light weight wood known as kumizh, covered in gold foil and colourful plastic gems. Even so, the Kathakali and Kutiyattam costumes can weigh 10-12kg! The Kathakali students say this weight can cause back and neck pain but it is eased with the oil massages.Picture 3

The Kerala performing arts have their roots in the Sanskrit theatre written in about 200 BC in the Natyasastra. They have been developing ever since but the masters safe guarding the arts are attempting to limit any evolution to maintain the meaning and spirituality associated with almost all Indian performing arts. Therefore very few of the KK students have studied other styles to avoid ‘pollution’. On the 18th I will be attending a traditional Kathakali performance in Kalamandalam’s N…………… running from 8pm until dawn which will be the first time I actually see the students in full costume, I am so excited!!

Written by Emma Hollows

Guest Blogger

 

Special Series: Indian Festival Costumes Issue 2, “On the Move”

Emma Hollows is a student from Manchester, England, going into her final year at the University of Cambridge. From August 7th to September 24th she is spending 7 weeks of her summer vacation in India exploring Gujarat and Kerala to investigate the costumes and make-up of Indian celebrations. During her trip, Emma is writing a blog series for Performing Arts Abroad as she participates in various festivals and attends Kerala Kalamandalam, a performing arts university teaching students the music, dances, costumes and make-up used in festivals.  This is the second issue of this special series…

Since my last post I celebrated Krishna Janmashtami in Ahmedabad with the extended family, so I met a whole horde of new people once again! Before long we had got onto the subject of dance and a space was cleared for me to teach some ballet, an art form rarely studied in India. Most will study a form of classical Indian dance but many have also learned some hip-hop thanks to the influence of Hollywood and Bollywood. After running through the basics of ballet, my lesson in Gujarati garba dancing began. The main festival in Gujarat is Navratri which consists of nine nights of dancing the garba. On a balcony, surrounded by palm trees, family and food, we circled the repetitive steps all evening, clapping and stamping the beat.
ballet class
Seva CafeThrough my work with Vishvet, I volunteered at the Seva Café in Ahmedabad. Despite its simplicity, this evening was probably one of my most enjoyable so far. I felt in my element mucking in as part of the team of volunteers who became instant friends as we shared experiences, chatted with guests, and later all sat down to a well-deserved dinner. The ethos of the café is to give from the heart so guests leave a donation rather than paying a bill making it the perfect destination for those who would otherwise go hungry. There is also a donation box by the entrance intended to be used by anyone who wishes to do something for the local community. Chatting to one particular guest, I discovered that he is a theatre director, writer and actor; still performing and holding workshops despite being in his 70s. This led to a visit to his home the following day to see his work. He had so many wonderful stories from his career in theatre and gave me his copy of Bhavai so that I may learn more of the Gujarati folk theatre.

Now I am in God’s own country: Kerala. Spending 32 hours on a train in England would kill me but here it was actually one of my favourite experiences. Perched on a third tier bunk, I had my own space above the bustle of passengers and retailers below. I soon got used to the shouts of chai chai chai as a man stumbled along with a large vat of tea. Travelling nearly 2000km, I met people from all over India. My favourite thing by far was to sit by the open door of the train and watch as the scenery changed from crowded cities to vast rivers weaving their way through dense jungle. Lots of people sat with me over the hours, all very friendly and always interested to hear about England.train

Since arriving in Kerala I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful guide in the owner of my hostel who has taken me to temples, waterfalls and a tea plantation. Even in the centre of Thrissur there is so much greenery with a large park and temple situated on the city’s famous ‘round’. My daily commute on the bus to Kerala Kalamandalam passes jungle, rivers and paddy fields – slightly different from the bus rides in Manchester!rainforest

At Kalamandalam I have begun shadowing a student of Mohiniyattam, the traditional Keralan dance for women, also known as the Dance of the Enchantress. The slow subtle movements and the droning music make the dance almost hypnotic. It is so different from the Western dance I have previously been exposed to that it is delightful to see how every part of the body is considered. Particular importance is granted to hand gestures and eye movements which together form an entire vocabulary of different emotions. Indian dancers are great storytellers, conveying the meaning of the songs through their actions and emotions. I am learning more about the costume of Kathakali and Mohiniyattem over the coming days so I will tell you guys all about it in my next post!trad dance

For now, tata!

Written by Emma Hollows
Performing Arts Abroad guest blogger and costume designer

Special Series: Indian Festival Costumes Issue 1, “Home Away from Home”

Emma Hollows is a student from Manchester, England, going into her final year at the University of Cambridge. From August 7th to September 24th she is spending 7 weeks of her summer vacation in India exploring Gujarat and Kerala to investigate the costumes and make-up of Indian celebrations. During her trip, Emma is writing a blog series for Performing Arts Abroad as she participates in various festivals and attends Kerala Kalamandalam, a performing arts university teaching students the music, dances, costumes and make-up used in festivals.  This is the first issue of this special series…

When I decided that I would go to India to learn about the culture and costumes I had no idea what to expect. Having no prior experience of Asia or of travelling alone, most people back home in England told me I was crazy, but to me it sounded like an adventure and in the short time that I’ve been here that is definitely what India has been!

After 18 hours of travelling I arrived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, to a warm Indian welcome from my host family who were laden with food and applied tika symbolizing the family’s joy to host a guest. Having a host family has been the best way to see India; they have been teaching me Gujarati and straight away I felt like one of the family. I could not count the number of people who have referred to me as didi (sister)! Then there is the food. Oh my gosh the food! I have had so much amazing food while I have been in India. Everybody says “you will be sick of curry three times a day!” but, with a majority vegetarian population, there is so much variety and so many tastes that you will not get bored. Unfortunately my body couldn’t quite keep up and I did end up with “Delhi Belly” for a couple of days, so advice to any travellers: make sure the food you eat has been prepared hygienically and only drink bottled water!

I am with the Vishvet Foundation for my first two weeks here who are an NGO based in Ahmedabad. They have organised a program of sight-seeing, a trip to Jaipur and visits to various institutes related to costume design. Seeing the work at the National Institute of Design was amazing; the textile students are taught how to weave using traditional methods in which they must calculate how to lay up to 64 threads to create their designs. An understanding of these properties of fabrics is essential for costume design because you must consider how they will appear on stage or in front of the camera.

homestay sister

My arrival in Jaipur was welcomed by monsoon rain which I was about to get pretty used to! For three days I stayed with another host family with whom I celebrated Raksha Bandhan, a celebration of the support between brothers and sisters. Radhika, my host, helped me to dress in traditional Rajputani paushak. Each state of India has its own traditional dress and way to drape a sari so each outfit makes a statement. The quality was beautiful with hand stitched decoration that must have taken hours. It is evident how important appearance and presentation are to Indians.

 

I was treated to a rehearsal of Oedipus in Hindi when we visited one of the theatres in Jaipur. Having studied the play at school I was able to understand what was happening despite the language barrier. The costumes had been given an Indian twist with the Chorus dressed in turbans and kurtas. Previous productions which I have seen in Britain have stuck true to the authentic Ancient Greek robes so it was nice to see an alternative adaptation.

Oedipus

Next week I will be heading down to Kerala to begin my work at Kerala Kalamandalam, a performing arts university. It will be sad to leave the new family I have made in Ahmedabad but I am excited to explore a new part of this vast nation and learn about the intricacies of Indian performance costume.

Aaw jo!

Emma with friends

Written by Emma Hollows

Performing Arts Abroad guest blogger and costume designer