Having its roots in the Hindu Mythology, Kathakali (story play) is the popular classical dance drama of Kerala. The history of this dance form dates back to the 17th century. The dance drama of Kathakali can well be defined as a wonderful combination of literature, music, painting, acting and dance. Artists perform Kathakali dance form wearing elaborate masks and costumes, making it all a sight to behold.
Kathakali recitals are generally long and narrative, combining dance with dialogue enliven the myths and legends of the state in temple courtyards. The dancers perform to the accompaniment of drums and vocalists to present different moods and emotion.
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The Kathakali costumes are an inseparable part of this classical dance drama of Kerala. It’s a splendid sight watching the performers attired in vivid-colour costumes. Facial make up forms the basis of the presentation of the drama. The make-up is done by the artist himself. Kathakali artists can be seen wearing wooden headgear that looks amazing on their heads. There is a number of face make-ups to be done. These include Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Minukku etc. The colours and names stand for nature of the characters. The complicated make-up takes several hours to be applied.
Kathakali Mudras or Hand Movements
One can easily observe that during the Kathakali dance drama, dancers do not speak. There are numerous Mudras and facial expressions that convey messages that the performer wishes to. This sign language involves great skill and expertise that the artists are specially known for. The dramas and dances are performed to the powerful vocal music. There are drummers who provide a matching rhythmic background to the performance of the artists. The Kathakali performance usually starts with a musical note called Thiranottam. The drama begins at night and continues till dawn.
First Play for Kathakali
The first play for Kathakali is believed to be written by one of the chieftains of Kottarakkara. The play was a cycle of eight stories based on the great Hindu epic Ramayana. The performance for each story was made to last for six to eight hours. The performed stories were called Ramanattom. These stories later came to be known as Kathakali.
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Kathakali Dance Techniques
The Kathakali dance performance involves a high degree of stylization. This can be easily seen in acting, presentation, make-up and costuming. The acting representation can be understood best in terms of four fold scheme of historic representation. These are as follows:
- Angika – relating to the body and limbs
- Vachika – relating to vocal presentation including proper pronunciation, modulation of voice accents and percussion
- Satvika – portrayal of psychic condition
- Ahraya – costume, make up, stage props etc.
The state of Kerala has a good number of Kathakali Dance centres spread all across Kerala. Major ones are listed below:
- Kerala Kalamandalam, Cheruthruthy, Thrissur
- P.S.V. Natya Sangham, Kottakal, Calicut, Kerala
- Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Pathirippala, Palakkad, Kerala
- Unnaivarrier Smaraka Kalanilayam, Iringalakkuda, Thrissur
- Cochin Cultural Centre, Cochin, Ernakulam, Kerala
- Art Kerala, Valanjambalam, Ernakulam
- R.L.V Thripunithura, Ernakulam