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Ancient Hindu art promotes Eucharist

Kathakali dance reaches out to youngsters

Classical dancers performing the work Classical dancers performing the work
  • George Kommattathil, Kozhikode and ucanews.com reporter, Kochi
  • India
  • July 18, 2011
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In a scene from the Last Supper, a colorfully costumed Jesus takes rhythmic strides to the beat of drums and offers bread and wine to Judas and Peter. Accompanied by lilting music and lyrics, this is a dramatic rendition of the story of the Eucharist in Kathakali, the classical dance form from the south Indian state of Kerala.

The brains behind the concept is Father Mathew Chencheril, who penned the 120-minute performance entitled Divyakarunyacharitam -  the Story of the Eucharist.

“My aim is to reach out to young people through this ancient art form and spread the message of Jesus Christ. I’m getting great response from all quarters, including Hindus,” said Father Chencheril, who is a member of the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.

“My Malayalam poem, Ithu Ninakai, which means This Is For You and tells the story of the Eucharist, was well appreciated,” he said. “Its success motivated me to try the Kathakali form to tell the story.”

The Major Archbishop and head of the Syro-Malabar Church will inaugurate the premiere performance of Divyakarunyacharitam at the Pastoral Orientation Centre, Kochi, on July 21. Through five scenes enacted over 90 minutes, the performers will take the audience through the last days of Jesus from the court of Pontius Pilate to Calvary.

Radha Madhavan, a renowned Hindu artist, has rewritten the poem to adapt it to the Kathakali form. Kalamandlam Sajan will perform the lead role while Kottackal Madhu will recite the songs. Both are leading exponents of the art.

“We are happy to welcome Christianity to Kathakali,” said Sajan.

One of the oldest forms of theater in the world, Kathakali is traditionally performed in temples and based on stories derived from Hindu epics and legends. It recounts the stories through lyrics and mudras, a series of highly stylized, symbolic moves and gestures, performed in traditional attire.

The actor who plays the role of Jesus will wear the traditional kareetam (crown) and  express himself through the mudras and make up which were originally reserved for Hindu deities only.

Father Chencheril pointed out that he hopes to experiment with new methods of evangelization through an ancient Indian art form without hurting religious sentiments.

“There is a criticism against the Church that Christians do not have Indian roots. So I thought of spreading the message of Jesus Christ in the pure Indian traditions.”

He plans to present Divyakarunyacharitam in every parish and even aspires to take it beyond borders.

Doctor Babu Paul, an eminent church historian, said “the priest’s bold attempt is very innovative and creative.”
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