Poetry Section #2

/kathha/- story (written & col.) Listen!

{ /kaLi/- game (col., written?) Listen!

ŵ{ /kathakaLi/- literally "story-play." Written as "kathhakaLi," pronounced "kathakaLi." Listen!

ŵ{ (Kathakali) is Kerala's main dance. It's very well-known; it used to be (and maybe still is) often performed even in Washington, D.C. (WOW!) It's not like most Indian dances, where women dressed in saris and golden necklace and maybe men in casual Indian dress dance to a song while making hand motions (mudras).

In Kerala, Kathakali is usually performed in the night and goes on until morning. Usually, all participants in the performance are men (even for the women's roles!) The dancers wear so much makeup that it takes them hours just to put it on! (To make things harder, they have to put the makeup on themselves! It's so hard because you have to paint your own face carefully and often wear VERY heavy crowns among other things. No wonder why it starts so late!)  

Kathakali dances usually act out old, well-known Hindu epics. In most or many of the stories, there's a "good guy" and a "bad guy." The "good guy" usually has a green face and a little bit of black paint around his eyes or just a pink face. The "bad guy" has more black paint around his eyes. "Good women" also have a pink face, and a brahmin is identified by his yellow robes.

The dancers dance and make mudras instead of speaking like actors do in Western plays. The mudras indicate what they are saying, but still, some people sing in the background interpreting the same mudras into Malayalam for two minutes! There are also some people playing drums in the background.

The only Kathakali I have ever personally seen is the one performed by the Tripunithra Kathakali Ladies' Troupe.

Now, Nambi had invented a different kind of kathakali called OTTamthuLLal:

G /OTTam/- running action. Listen!

UW /thuLLal/- jumping action. Listen!

GUW/OTTamthuLLal/- lit. "running around and jumping." Listen!

Ottamthullal is like Kathakali except there is only one dancer--the joker--who speaks, for a change. Sometimes, he even jokes about the audience! So Ottamthullal is kind of like watching Saturday Night Live, except you have drummers and singers in the background (and different background music), they're talking about a Hindu epic instead of politics, there's only one joker, and he's speaking Malayalam! (There are some more differences, I think, but I won't get into that...)

And now, finally, the story of Bheema and Hanuman:

This story is from the Mahabharata, one of the greatest Hindu epics. The whole story is basically about five princes whose jealous cousins sentence them to exile for 13 years in the forest. The strongest of the five princes (and the most merciless) was Bheema, and his wife (the wife of all 5 princes!) was Draupadi.

One day, in that forest, Draupadi found a very rare flower blown away by the wind. So she asked Bheema to get her some more. (My uncle, Kuruvilla John, says that in the Kathakali version of this, "at two in the morning, Draupadi is STILL trying to convince Bheema to go! So I just left." And, according to my dad, "THEN Draupadi asks, 'Aren't you afraid?' And Bheema says, 'Huh! I have my gada (mace)!' and raises a needle.")

(Maces were common weapons in those days. The way they were used was that you would swing them around a few times and hurl it at somebody, thus killing someone in one blow. They were very huge and heavy, and if you hit someone in the head with it, their brain would probably flow out.)

So Bheema used his mace to terrorize every animal that attempted to stop him. Eventually, however, he came to a place where a tall, but old and feeble, monkey was lying down on the ground. He asked and demanded that the monkey move, but it only teased him.

That's why Nambi wrote this Ottamthullal poem with a tune:


VA B A߿! ֿ!!


A KX L آ?

This poem uses kind of rude language; a translation is provided below:

Look, you monkey, lying there in the middle of our path!

Get out of the way! Sheesh!

At this difficult time, having come to sleep,

Why are you interfering with my business? [What does any of this have anything to do with you?]

The monkey eventually reminded Bheema that he was so strong, so surely he could just move his tail and pass. Bheema tried lifting his tail up with one hand, but the tail didn't budge. He tried using both hands, and it remained like a tree branch glued to the ground. Even his gada (mace) couldn't move it at all!

He figured that this monkey was certainly not an ordinary one! In fact, it turned out that this monkey was the famous Hanuman (apparently related to Bheema) from the Ramayana! He gave Bheema directions and advice concerning Kubera's garden, the source of the flower.

After a battle with the rakshasas (demons) guarding the garden, many mishaps, and a scolding from his virtuous elder brother, Yudhishthira,  Bheema gave the persistent Draupadi all of the rare flowers she wanted. Yudhishthira got permission from Kubera for his four brothers and himself to stay in the garden for a while. Bheema never attacked anyone again without Yudhishthira knowing first (well, we hope!)

Vocabulary behind the poem:

A /nOkkuka/- to look, written & col. Listen! A! /nOkku!/- look! (imperative, i.e. a command; this word is used with anyone) Listen! A! /nOkkaTa!/- look here... (imperative again; this is a very colloquial and rude term. People can also use it to say to peers or younger people, "What are you waiting for? Go ahead and look!"). Listen! Combination of  A! and ! /eTa!/ (the "rude" expression that normally people use when talking to boys in a sort of "rude" manner. Listen! To girls, they say ! /eTii!/ Listen!)

ޢ, NZ, NZA /naam, nammaL, nammaLkku/- we. Listen! ޢ doesn't seem to be a very colloquial word; whenever I hear people saying "we" in Malayalam (in a context where they INCLUDE the person they are speaking to), they seem to usually use NZ. NZA literally means "for us (in our opinion)," but it can also mean NZ when combined with certain verbs. (This is NOT really like the reflexive pronoun in Indo-European languages!) N /nammuTe/ means "our." Listen!

VP /maarggam/- a very poetic word for "road" and/or "path." Listen! In everyday Malayalam, we say /vazhi/. Listen!

VA/VA /markkaTaa/, /markkaTam/- written word for "monkey." The former is like addressing a monkey, the latter means "a/the monkey." Listen! The more common word is B /kurangng/, pronounced like "coranguh" where the "ng" is pronounced like in the word "bong." Listen! A N VP ߿AK VA... = "Look, [you old] monkey lying down on our path..."

, A /nii, ninakku/- you (singular informal, written & col.) Listen! The former (nii) is nominative (i.e. just a subject pronoun, a pronoun used at the beginning of a sentence.) The latter (ninakku) is actually dative (i.e. it means "for you (in your opinion), like NZA") but of course, it can just mean "you" when combined with certain verbs.  B /niiyangngu/- Listen! A combination of & B /angngu/ (which is a word meaning "there.") Listen! A /ninakkaTa/ is a combination of A and . Listen!

A߿! /maarrikkiTa/- written & col. command meaning "move aside [and lie down]." Listen! "To move aside" is A߿A /maarrikkiTakkuka/. Listen! Comes from verbs /maarruka/ (to move aside) and ߿A /kiTakkuka/ (to rest/sleep). Listen! Note that ߿A sounds more like /keTakkuka/ when pronounced. 

ֿ! /SaTa!/- another way of saying ! in an angry or frustrated way. (You broke my valuable golden jar! ֿ! What will I do with you around the house?) Listen! B A߿ ֿ!! = Move aside! Sheesh!

V /durghaTa/- another poetic word (sigh...) meaning "difficult." Listen! Okay...the more colloquial word is (I knew you were expecting me to say that) /prayaasam/. Listen! There's another word that many Christians apparently use quite often: iG /buddhimuTT/. Listen! (Literally, both of the colloquial words mean "difficulty." But when you need to use them in an adjective, you add the suffix _U /uLLa/. (Hee hee! Looks like three little mermaids or something!) Listen!

Ȣ /sthhaanam/- written and col. meaning "place" or "situation." Listen! J /sthhaanaththe/ means "in (a/the/this/that) place." Listen!

/varuka/- written and col. meaning "to come." Listen! K /vannu/ is past tense, so it means "came." (I came, you came, we all came...anybody came!) Listen!

MX /Sayippaan/- written (& col.?) meaning "to sleep." Listen! It looks like ߿A is used more often, though. V J K MX... = In this difficult situation, come to sleep...

K /thOnnuka/- to think, feel, concern, or remember. Listen! KX /thOnnuvaan/- thinking, feeling, concerning, or remembering. A KX /ninakk thOnnuvaan/- concerning you (singular familiar and kinda rude!!) Listen!

L? /enth?/- what? (written and col.) L? /enthaTaa?/- combination of L and . Listen!

آ /sanggathi/- thing/matter (written and col.) Listen! A KX L آ? What is (the thing that is) concerning you?

That's all for this poetry section! Next time, we'll see another poem dealing with Rama and Seetha (coming soon!!!) It isn't too exciting--it's just a short little poem, with sharp contrasts, about their marriage.