Kathakali meets Christ: Holy Mass on stage

July 17th, 2011 - 5:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Kochi, July 17 (IANS) Religious boundaries will blur for a good 90 minutes when Kathakali artistes take to the stage and perform a south Indian dance-drama showcasing the message and essence of the Holy Mass, with Jesus Christ also appearing on stage.

An initiative of Father Joy Chencheril, a Catholic priest attached to the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, the dance-drama is called “Divya Karunya Charitam” — based on a poem written by the young priest.

Speaking to IANS, the priest said that his objective is to take Kathakali, which is already popular abroad, to even greater heights.

The dance-drama is known for the elaborate costumes, painted faces, intricate expressions and sharp movements of the artistes.

“I have just used the message and essence of the Holy Mass, which is ‘the self giving love’ into the art form of Kathakali. I have no issues from my Church because I have not done anything to the Holy Mass, all what I have done is taken the message and essence of it,” said the 39-year-old priest.

In the dance-drama, eight characters, including that of Jesus Christ, will be played by students of the famed Kalamandalam, a major centre of performing arts in Kerala.

“The main story thread for this is based on the ‘Last Supper’ and you can call this as some kind of new evangelism. Today, you find numerous programmes like mimicry, drama, and fireworks in Churches during festivals.

“If we can make use of our own art form of Kathakali, it would bring lot of relief to several artistes who are now finding it tough to eke out a living,” said the priest, who is now giving last minute touches to his dance-drama that will go on stage Thursday.

However, not all are that pleased with the initiative.

Known Catholic rebel Joseph Pulikunnel has asked why the media is giving so much importance to whatever is being done by the priests.

“Recently, it was news when a priest donated a kidney, I can show you any number of people who have donated kidneys. You make a big splash when a priest does something,” said Pulikunnel, whose feud with the Catholic Church is legendary.

“I don’t know how will it matter to an average Christian if a priest dances or sings. Don’t you think he has to do more than dancing and singing,” asked Pulikunnel, who is in his 80s.

Pulikunnel claims that such acts by the Catholic Church are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from real issues.

Johnson Karoor, a former Catholic priest, said that there appears to be a marked shift on the part of the Church since the Second Vatican Council that concluded in Vatican in 1965.

“This new initiative can be seen in that perspective because it appears to be a way to adapt to the Indian culture. There are Christian priests here who perform the Holy Mass by sitting and also using coconut shells in lieu of the customary materials used in Churches,” said Karoor.

He also said that there are priests who use saffron colour cassocks which can be seen as a shift towards the Indian culture.

Priest Chencheril’s dance-drama would be staged here at the Pastoral Orientation Centre. It will be inaugurated by Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Mar George Alencherry.

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)

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