Author: Yashila Prashadh, Chennai
Published as a part of Śāstra Raṅga-2023 Internship ; offered by NoopuraBhramari- IKS Centre. Article series No – 22
Abhinaya is of 4 types as mentioned in Nātyaśāstra – Āṅgikābhinaya, Sāthvikābhinaya, Vācikābhinaya and Āhāryābhinaya. Āhārya includes the costume, jewellery and make-up of artist, stage decor, props, etc. The concept of costumes and make up is explained in detail in the Nātyaśāstra and is given equal importance compared to the different movements of limbs in dance. Chapter 23 Āhāryābhinaya in the Nātyaśāstra explains extensively about costumes and make-up. They can be used to convey some meaning or suggest something like the nature of the character portrayed, the mood in which the character is or what the character is trying to convey.
Kathakaļi is a classical dance form of Kerala. It is a unique dance form with minute facial expressions, varied hand gestures to communicate the meaning and elaborate costumes and make-up. Make-up in Kathakaļi is majorly of 5 types based on the characters. The first type is called as ‘Minukku’ used to depict sages and brahmins. The actors use red and yellow colours for this make-up.
Punaśca bhārate varşe tāmstān varṇān nibodhate|
Rājānah padmavarṇā syuh śyāmā gaurāstathaiva ca|| 99
Ye cāpi sukhino martyā gaurāh kāryāstu te budhaih|
The above-mentioned shlokas 99 and 100 of this chapter mention that kings are to be depicted in lotus colour, dark and pale-red and wise people to be portrayed in pale-red colour. This fits with the concept of Minukku where they are depicted in red or pale red which is a combination of yellow and red.
Second type is the ‘Paccha’ for Sātvik characters. The colour of the face is shown in green. For example, Rāma, Krśṅa, Arjuna, etc. In the Nātyaśāstra not much is mentioned about green colour. Even in the beginning of make-up portion of the 23rd Chapter, it is stated that white, blue, yellow, and red are the four main natural colours with which the limbs are to be painted.
Āyastakarmiṇaścaiva hyasitāśca kujātayah|
ŗşayaścaiva kartavyāh nityan tu badaraprabhāh|| 101
Shloka 101 mentions that sages should be given the colour of the Badara fruit which might be suggestive of green colour. Apart from this nothing is mentioned about green colour make-up for the face and hence can be observed that this green colour remains unique to Kathakali.
Then comes the third type ‘Katti’. This is more elaborate than Paccha in which usage of red and green colours and their mixes can be noticed. These are used to represent Rājasik characters. The fourth type in Kathakali is the ‘Tādi’ or bearded make-up which can be represented using red, white, and black colours. These can be used to depict good as well as evil characters. This type is further divided into sub-types, they are, Velapu Tādi or white beard that is used to depict characters like Hanuman, Chokkanna Tādi used to represent ferocious characters and Karuppu Tādi or the black beard used to depict Lord Siva in the form of a hunter. In the Nātyaśāstra very less in mentioned about the usage of the beard. It is mentioned that sages are to be depicted with white beard and characters like Rākśasās and Dānavas in brown beard. Not much coincides exactly with what is written in the Nātyaśāstra but taking in general we observe that Sātvik characters are shown with white beard like Hanuman in Kathakali which is what Nātyaśāstra mentions in the case of sages. The same applies to red coloured beard for more tamasic characters who are seen to be ferocious and terrible.
The last type is the ‘Kari’. Here, the face is painted entirely black. This type of make-up is used to show the demonic characters. The same is written in the Nātyaśāstra too.
Daityāśca dānavāścaiva rākşasā guhyakā nagāh|
Piśācā yama ākāśamasitāni tu varṇatah|| 94
The 94th shloka mentions that Daityas, Dānavas, Rākśasās, Guhyakas, Piśācas are to be represented in black. It is also mentioned that people engaged in loathsome activities, those under the spell of evil spirits etc, are to be represented in black. Hence, it is understood that characters more of tamasic in nature are supposed to be represented using black colour.
Kathakali has unique make-up that is very elaborate and requires another person’s help to complete the make-up. Once the make-up is on, the artists are transformed into the characters and no longer remain as the artist. Some unique features of their make-up is the papier-mache that is used to highlight the jaw bone, the different coloured beards, the different types of head gear made of wood or papeir-mache. Even until today kathakali dancers use natural products to make their face paints.
The details on Āhārya mentioned in the Nātyaśāstra can be observed even today in dance and dance drama traditions. At the same time, we also get to observe the things that do not correspond to whatever is written and notice things that are unique to a particular kind of dance form, and it can also be due to the evolution of the concepts due to time and region.