(Last Updated on : 21-04-2012)
Symbols used in Malayalam theatre makes communicating easier, among actors. The features of Kerala theatre
speaks, in great length, about the use of gesticulation as a mode of expression. Malayalam theatre, almost exclusively, boasts of using the sign languages and gestures of a highly codified and systematised character. This is such an essential characteristic of Kerala theatre that it is most cases this is used above spoken words.
The codified gesticulations which are used as a means of conveying ideas in Malayalam theatre and other forms of entertainment in the state, comes under the following heads. 1. Natural Gestures 2. Imitative Gestures 3 Gestures resulting from amplification for secular purposes of the orthodox types of Tantric and Mantric symbols such as those used for Aradhana, Abhaya, Dana, Avahana, etc. While trying to look into this in a more elaborate format one can see Natural Gestures are unconsciously produced and utilised, when the speaker is moved by great emotion or passion; under this head may be included such gestures as those used for denoting come, go, eat, etc. Imitative Gestures reproduce the shape or some striking peculiarity of the thing or person or being such for instance as those referring to lion, elephant, tiger, fish, tortoise, etc.
The original ritualistic symbols must; have been amplified for the use of the Cakyars in staging Theatre, and hence it must have been extended to the secular varieties. These three varieties which consist of primitive instinctive gesticulations and natural and symbolic representations lend themselves to all sorts of permutations and combinations, and these, when combined and systematised, constitute the code of gesture language.
In this content, it must be carefully mentioned that, even the Mantric, and Tantric symbols must originally have been elaborated from the simple natural and imitative gestures. It is, therefore, not far fetched to assume that the Tantria and Mantric symbols must have served as the basis of the gesture language of the stage, later developed by the addition of the imitative and instinctive gestures. And so far at least as the Sanskrit stage is concerned, this gesture language must have been introduced with a view to popularising the sacred language also. It appears, besides, to have served another practical purpose. An orthodox code requires that Brahmins
should not use the profane vernacular daring the course of their daily rituals; at the same time it is practically impossible for them to avoid communication with the Ambalavasis. Sanskrit could not serve this purpose and the Namputiris (Brahmins
of Kerala) might have developed a simple code of gesture-language.
It is still not known if, at the hind side, the use of gestures had any significant motives, but this device served as an excellent method for helping the illiterate crowd to understand the language of the play and appreciate it better. That; this must have been the original motive is also clear from the fact that the code of gestures used by the Cakyars is far simpler than that used by the actors of the Kathakali, For, in the former the actor has to confine himself to the space between the elbows of his outspread arms, while for the latter the whole space between his extended reach is at his disposal. The larger space available makes the Kathakali
gestures more graceful and understandable probably so designed to make the code appeal even to the larger crowd of illiterate audiences. The use of gesture-language as a means of communication appears to be very old, older than even Kuttu. In its beginnings, the code must have been very simple and natural and hence easily understandable, and it later became codified and stereotyped as the actors language. The abundance of variety, the prominence given to acting and the use of a codified gesture language constitute the peculiar features of Kerala theatre stage, both Sanskrit and Vernacular.