Daryl Harris, NKU professor of theatre and dance, presented “Kerala, India: Kayaking, Culture, and Cuisine, A Photojournal of a Phenomenal Journey” Wednesday in the Griffin Hall Digitorum. The presentation was sponsored by Phi Beta Delta and walked through Harris’s kayaking adventures in Kerala, India.
Harris captured moments of everyday Indian life but also chronicled Indian art forms and Indian folk theatre or as it’s also known Kathakali.
Kathakali, according to Harris, dates back 250 years. Another form of Indian theatre is shadow puppetry or Tolpava koothu. Some Tolpava koothu and Kathakali last up to 24 hours, he said.
Harris went through four hours of technique training at Kerala Kathakali Centre. On top of that, the actors went through one hour of makeup preparation. Harris did not see a 24-hour performance but were entertained with a one hour special showing.
The point of Kathakali is not to appease a human audience but to appease the gods, according to Harris. In Kerala, where the theatre is located, the ritualistic performance is supposed to appease Bhagavati, the Mother Goddess.
“The gods never sleep,” Harris said.
He said that Kathakali can be compared to Japanese Kabuki theatre. However, modern Kathakali is used to raise awareness for social causes such as aids.
Kathakali’s musical structure, Harris said, is much like call-and-response found in jazz and African influenced music.
The expressions and movements in Indian theatre are based on Hindu mudras, or hand symbols that signify certain practices of Hindu teachings such as love.
Indian shadow puppetry is a different tradition within Kathakali with the same purpose to appease the gods telling tales from the epic Ramayana.Shadow puppetry, Tolpavakoothu, is more ancient, Harris said. Some puppets can be as old as 100 years so artists invent new puppets for tourists to keep the craft going, according to Harris. Pulavars are the puppet masters and Harris visited them at Pavakathakali Puppetry.
Harris said that North America has the strongest theatre in the world because of the variety of cultures but if we are to continue being cultured, we must study non-Western theatre such as KathaKali.
Harris encountered other art forms in Kerala such as street dancing which he said is becoming extinct. On a screen, Harris showed the dancers forming a circle and marching to the beat of tabla drums in tall, layered, chandelier-like hats.
Harris went to a gallery showcasing David Hall’s artwork which, according to Harris, received good reviews by the Hindu press with the message about saving endangered elephants.
Among the other things Harris did in South India, he stayed at Dewalokan Farm and ate the farm’s organic cuisine for four days.
Other things he witnessed in India were tadi houses, or rice boats, ladies washing clothes and taking breaks from rice work, women’s collective spice markets, many goats, fish markets, schoolchildren, Vasco de Gama’s tomb, and religious harmony.
Harris showed an example of religious harmony between the three major world religions “without any friction.” With Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism and Christianity there were also lesser-known Indian religions.
Along with religious harmony, Kerala also has the highest literacy rate in India at 100 percent, according to Harris.
“When we think of India, we think of north India. Kerala doesn’t have a huge amount of tourists and its less populated.”
Matt Wallin, junior history and social studies education major, said his favorite part of the presentation was how eager everybody [in India] was to share their culture.
India, Harris explained, was one of his favorite places to visit, other than his top choice, Victoria, British Columbia, the place which first influenced him to travel.
Harris was also inspired by his father to travel. While he was born in Mississippi and raised in Illinois but he also has visited several other countries (Canada, Scandinavia, Romania, Italy, Greece, Jerusalem, West Africa, Egypt, China, Australia, and several Caribbean islands) and has been teaching theatre for 45 years at home and abroad. Harris concluded that he hopes to continue traveling.