Rather then try to put together bits and pieces of the Ramayana together into a complete story, I bought a copy and am now reading it in hopes of understanding much of the art, stories, and theatre pieces I encounter on a daily basis.
Last night was spent watching a Kathakali dance performance; these are often based on the Ramayana. It was interesting, albeit a bit touristy, and every time something happened 10,000 camera flashes went off. The place was so packed and smoking is allowed during the performance; so, it was hot and smoky and I felt sick when it was over.
The beginning is the most interesting part, for approximately an hour before the performance the dancers put their coconut makeup on: red means bad, yellow means female, black means demon, and green means good. For each emotion there is a facial expression or an eye movement and to accentuate this the dancers put eggplant flowers into their eyes to make their eyes turn red. Hand gestures also have intricate meanings and throughout the performance I couldn’t catch the meanings of each 23 movements. It’s a lot like the sign language alphabet.
The dance performance we saw was only a small part of the full 6-8 hour event. In this particular piece (the Karthikathrunal Maharaja), Nakrathuni is the sister of a demon. Her job is to find beautiful maidens for her brother Narakasura. She meets and falls in love with Jayanthan, son of Indran. To try and trick him she turns herself into Lalitha, a beautiful maiden, in an attempt to seduce him. Jayanthan is wise to her ploy and when he discovers she is a demon he cuts off her ears, nose, and breasts. That was the portion I saw.