Elusive Arts

Monday, Mar. 30, 8:36 AM
Thrissur, Kerala, India

We’ve been hunting down Keralan culture all week, starting with a visit to the tourist office in Thrissur and then visiting all the arts academies in town to get information on where to see some of the famous and arcane ritual theater theyyattam which is still being kept alive from ancient times. In addition, now is supposedly festival season in Kerala, and what makes this state uique is they celebrate with elephants, not just a few, but in many cases hundreds in one place. So for the last 3 days we’ve been traveling to cities all around to find some action. Unfortunately, each of our side trips for the last three days have not yielded any of the rewards we were seeking.

Good Information is hard to come by, especially when every person, [verbally translated] newspaper, and internet site has a different answer. On Friday, following information we had on a pamphlet we got at Matana Kairali, a cultural center dedicated to the documentation and performance of Kerala’s lesser-known theater arts, we took a bus 32km North to Cheruthuruthy to visit the Kalamandalam Acedemy, the state’s flagship training school for kathakali and other indigenous Keralan performance arts. Only problem, and I don’t know how we didn’t notice this: the 5-day event occurred last month. Strike one. Next day we voyaged to the village of Irinjalakuda to see some “dance performances” they told us about in the tourist office AND which we verified in the newspaper AND telephone. When we got to the place, there was no performance, but we did get to see the VERY nice training school grounds and theater. Eventually we asked around and got directed to a tiny theater next to an impressive temple (where we watched a giant bat-migration which lasted for over an hour, and cool owls chasing other birds) and we got to see a bit of theater… it was kind of boring, but we got a piece. With our host Arup we stepped-out at half-time to get the scoop on what the actors were going-on about (it was mostly spoken word with some expressive hand gestures), and we decided we’d all seen enough. Half-point, us! Yesterday, we went to the village of Kogungaloor to attend day #3 of the Bharani festival, but it was over the previous night, so all we got to see was a city TRASHED (by thousands of pilgrims) and one lingering drunken sadhu who was coloring us with yellow powder and doing yoga rolls onto our feet (and getting carried away by the police). We weren’t the only ones misguided, though; we met another traveler in town who read online that the festival was supposedly ongoing. Strike two! Lasse and I took the bus to the nearby fishing beach, swam in the hottest Sea ever (it was cooler outside the water), and made our way to a hotel with A/C in Irinjalakuda to splurge on some culinary arts. All in all, our pursuits were not fruitless, but had not yielded the Arts we were seeking.

Other stops on our itinerary are to trek and explore Kerala’s natural attractions, like nearby waterfalls, lakes, a sandalwood forest, and a bird sanctuary. Today we’ll hike and swim in the waterfalls, tomorrow we travel (by bus-in, bike out) to the hill station Munnar way up in the mountains, supposedly gorgeous, the mountains widely- touted as being one of Kerala’s best assets. When we get back to our couchsurfer’s home, we should be just in time for a big festival (guaranteed, with over 100 elephants, costume, grandeur, percussion… please!), and then we’ll give dance another shot as we head out and through nearby Kochi, which has 5 places where we might be able to catch a performance. (Yes, please!) We’ve been chasing down art and culture like it’s sport to no avail, but we’re getting better… more info, more contacts, more time to wait and see what we’ll find! Puram festival is just around the corner, too, so hopefully I’ll have a lot to report on in the next few weeks.

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