Kathakali a unique combination of literature, music, painting, acting and dance.
Kathakali ("story play") is the classical dance drama of Kerala, which dates from the 17th century and is rooted in Hindu mythology. Kathakali has a unique combination of literature, music, painting, acting and dance.
Kathakali draws heavily from drama and is danced with elaborate masks and costumes. Kathakali recitals are generally long and while other dance forms are more emotive than narrative, Kathakali is both. It combines dance with dialogue to bring myth and legend to life in the temple courtyards of Kerala. The dancers use their stunning costumes and make-up, with the accompaniment of drums and vocalists, to create various moods and emotions.
Kathakali has a harmonious combination of literature (Sahithyam), music (Sangeetham), painting (Chithram), acting (Natyam) and dance (Nritham). All the five forms of art have a very important place in this combination. Its literature is narrative , poetic and dramatic. Costumes are of vivid colours, facial makeup is done by the artist himself and a distinct headgear made of wood is worn during the play. The Aharya (Make-up) has many faces like Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Minukku etc.
These colours and names denote nature of the characters. The make-up is complicated, requiring several hours to apply. During the drama the dancers do not speak, but the hand movements known as 'Mudras' and unique facial expressions all imbibe to a sign language. All the drama and dance are accompanied by powerful vocal music. Drummers provide a rhythmic background to the drama. Kathakali performances usually begin with a musical note called Thiranottam. The dance extravaganza last all through night to dawn.
There are 24 Basic Mudras (hand gestures) in the "Hasthalakshana Deepika", the book of hand gestures, which Kathakali follows. There are 'Asamyutha Mudras' (that is shown using single hand) and 'Samyutha Mudras' (mudras shown in double hands) in each Basic Mudras, to show different symbols. Considering all these Mudras and their seperations there are totally 470 symbols used in Kathakali.
Mudra is a stylized sign language used to depict an idea, a situation or a state of being. A Kathakali actor enacts his ideas through mudras. For this he follows a systematic sign language based on Hastalakshana Deepika, a treatise on the language of hand gestures.
Symbols used in Kathakali
1. Pathaaka (Flag)
3. Katakam (Golden Bangle)
4. Mushti (Fist)
5. Kartharee Mukham (Scissor's sharp point)
6. Sukathundam (Parrot's peek)
7. Kapidhakam (The fruit of a tree)
8. Hamsa Paksham (Swan'swing)
9. Sikharam (Peak)
10. Hamsaasyam (Swan's peek)
11.Anjaly (Folded hands in Salutation)
12.Ardhachandram (Half moon)
13. Mukuram (Mirror)
14. Bhramaram (Beetle)
15. Soochimukham (Needle's sharp point)
16. Pallavam (Sprout)
17. Thripathaaka (Flag with three colours)
18. Mrigaseersham (Deer's head)
19. Sarpasirassu (Serpant's head)
20. Vardhamanakam (Seedling)
21. Araalam (Curved)
22. Oornanabham (Spider)
23. Mukulam (Bud)
It was one of the Rajas (Chieftain) of Kottarakkara, who wrote the first play intended for Kathakali performance. They form a cycle of eight stories based on Ramayana. The performance for each story was designed to last for six to eight hours. The performed stories were then known as Ramanattom (play pertaining to Rama), which later came to be called as Kathakali. Stories based on other epics and puranas were added to its repertoire in later period. More information about Kathakali:
Costume is elaborate with the face painted up. Great importance is laid on the Vesham or make-up which are of five types - Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Kari and Minukku.
The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partly due to its decor part of which is the kireetam or huge headgear and the kanchukam the over sized jackets, and a long skirt worn over a thick padding of cushions. The identity of the actor is completely mutilated to create a super human being of larger-than-life proportion.
Pacha Vehsam or the green make-up portray noble protagonists.
Kathi Vesham portrays villainous characters.
There are three types of bearded or Thadi Veshams.
"Vella Thadi" or White beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman.
"Chuvanna Thadi" or Red beard is for evil characters.
"Karutha Thadi" or Black beard for the hunter.
Kari Vesham is used for she-demons.
Minukku (Prettying Up)
The "Minukku Vesham" is used for female characters and sages.
The orchestra is formed of two varieties of drums - the maddalam and chenda; the chengila which is a bell metal gong and the ilathalam or cymbals.
Students of Kathakali have to undergo rigorous training replete with oil massages and separate exercises for eyes, lips, cheeks, mouth and neck. Abhinaya or expression is of prime importance as is nritya or dance and geetham or singing.
Together with highly evocative facial expressions, the mudras and
the music both vocal and instrumental, Kathakali unfolds stories from
a bygone era in a lofty style reminiscent of the Greek plays. Kerala
Kalamandalam , is the prominent institution imparting Kathakali training
in the traditional way.
Major Kathakali Centres of Kerala
1. Kerala Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy, Thrissur District.
2. P.S.V. Natyasangham, Kottakkal, Calicut District.
3. Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Pathirippala, Palakkad District.
4. Unnayivarrier Smaraka Kalanilayam, Iringalakkuda, Thrissur District.
5. Cochin Cultural Centre, Cochin, Ernakulam District
6. Art Kerala, Valanjambalam, Ernakulam District.
8. R.L.V. Thripunithura, Ernakulam Dt.
Kerala owes its transnational fame to this nearly 300 years old classical dance form which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime. It is said to have evolved from other performing arts like Kootiyattam, Krishnanattam and Kalarippayattu. Kathakali explicates ideas and stories from the Indian epics and Puranas.
Presented in the temple precincts after dusk falls Kathakali is heralded by the Kelikottu or the beating of drums in accompaniment of the Chengila (gong). The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music, drama and dance is unparallelled in any other art form.