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Home » Art and Culture of Kerala » Kathakali In Kerala

Kathakali In Kerala

Kathakali In Kerala

Literally meaning "Story Play", Kathakali (Katha-story, Kali-Play). Kathakali is around 300 years old. Today, only 30 plays out of the original 100 plays are being played. Most of the plays explicate the Hindu epics - Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas.

Kerala owes its transnational fame to this classical dance form, which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime. Kathakali is usually presented in the Temple precincts after dusk. Singers vocalize the script while the players act out the play with their gestures (mudras and mughabhinaya).

Kathakali is heralded by the Kelikottu (the drums) in accompaniment of the Chengila (the gong). The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music, drama and dance are unparalleled in any other art form. Kathakali performers require hours of preparation.

The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partly due to its Costume part of which includes the kireetam (headgear), 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.

In earlier days, Kathakali was confined only to the festival stages in temples. The late Mahakavi (great poet) Vallathol Narayana Menon took special interest in the art, brought it out of the temples, exploited its antiquity and, by unstinted efforts, swept the opera stages all over the world. It is acclaimed by the connoisseurs of art world as 'a total art form of immense sophistication and power'.

The stories for attakatham (revise text for a Kathakali price) are selected from epics and mythologies and are written in a highly samskritised verse form in Malayalam. It had it's origin  in the courts of the kings of Kerala.

It is considered to be a synthetic art form combining in itself, the rudiments of it's earlier forms like 'Krishnanathan 'and 'Ramanattam' with a highly classical dance. The actor does not speak, but expresses himself   through  highly complicated and scientifically ordained murdias and steps, closely following the text being sung from the background of the stage .

The donation of Kathakali is peopled by superhuman, goods and demons, and animals who are presented in a larger than life format. What strikes the spectator first and most is the splendor of the costumer, ornaments and facial make - up which transform the actor - dancer into a type rather than a particular character. A green - painted face studs for nobility, honour, nalour and such higher qualities.

Kathakali performances traditionally begin just after sunset and continuous all night through downs. As the artiste does not speak, his vocabulary consists of only 'hustamudras' (stylised  hand gestures) and facial gesture.

Together with the exceptional quality of the spectacle and the intricate 'athinaya'system and the rectorical text with druns, a Kathakali performents transports the spectator to an out of this world experience.

It takes years for a novice to gradute into an actor. It takes more than seven years of full time practice under a meticulious teacher.

Kathakali is not just another dance form. Training for professional Kathakali performers begins from an early age. It is extremely rigorous and demands gymnastics and physical exercise. Not everyone is capable of being a Kathakali artist.

One needs a strong sense of declaration and perseverance to attain that goal. It is alonly disintegrating into an old art of form. It is up to us, the people of Kerala, to light it's fire and keep it remembered as a beautiful art form that expresses a lot form the heart.

Kathakali Make-up

Costume is elaborate with the face painted up. Great importance is laid on the Vesham (make-up), which are of five types - Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Kari and Minukku. Each Vesham denotes the type of role. 

Pacha (Green)- portrays noble protagonists

Kathi (Knife)- portrays villainous characters.

Thadi (Beard)- 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 (Black) - Kari Vesham is used for lady-demons (witches in Indian epic)

Minukku (Prettying Up)- The "Minukku Vesham" is used for female characters and sages.