Bunraku and Kathakali theatrical traditions

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Introduction: Many explorations into the realm of theater arts have produced various discoveries, which have helped theater devotees make connections never seen before between theater traditions not only from different parts of the world, but with different means of origin. Any such exploration is vital to theatrical research and practice as it not only adds value to theatrical study, but it also may provide an opportunity for two or more theatrical traditions to blend into one exhibition of carefully investigated research.               The following research presentation examines two very different and diverse theatrical practices: Bunraku Theater, from seventeenth century Japan, and Kathakali Dance-Drama, from seventeenth century southern India. In this examination of Bunraku and Kathakali theatrical traditions, this research paper is an exploration of the cultural evolution of each tradition and a reflection on the development of additional performer roles and the element of movement in both of these practices.               Bunraku Theater is a traditional form of Puppet Theater that originated in Japan. Initially, ‘Bunraku’ was the name of the theater where ningyo-joruri (puppets and storytelling) was performed in. Gradually, this name evolved and became to be the name associated with the art of ningyo-joruri itself. (“What is Bunraku?�) Today, ‘Bunraku’ is the official name of Puppet Theater in Japan. Textual styles in Bunraku involve a high degree of drama, whereas most puppet-oriented theatrical traditions simply rely on simple myths and legends as a foundation for their texts. Most puppet-based theater practices around the world also usually hide the puppeteers involved in the drama. In Bunraku, however, the puppeteers are shown to the audience along with the puppets. (“What is Bunraku?�)               Kathakali is one of the oldest theatrical traditions India, originating in the southern state of Kerela. In Malayalam, the name ‘Kathakali’ directly translates into ‘story-play’. This tradition is primarily a dance-oriented tradition with textual styles involving themes based on mythological texts from Hinduism such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. (Rajan) Most dance-based theater practices rely only on the dance movements to convey various messages. Kathakali, however, heavily relies on a highly detailed make-up and costume classification, which portrays the characteristics of the characters. (Rajan)               The astonishing circumstance is that both of these traditions have no evidence of contact amongst themselves. However, as absurd as the relationship may be, a sense of the practices of naturalist Charles Darwin echo when discussing this situation. One might argue that at some point, both these traditions might have a common root that dates back thousands of years. Maybe, in the process of developing these traditions, there was a connection somewhere that inspired both these traditions. Then again, while searching for a historical link, the true essence of the links between Bunraku and Kathakali must not be lost.

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