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Kathakali is the most renowned dance-drama from Kerala, a state in South India lying on the west coast of the Indian peninsula. The word Kathakali is made up of “katha” and “kali”, whereas katha means story and kali is enacting of story through mime and movement. Kathakali is a group presentation, in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on religious themes. They typically deal with the Mahabarat, the Ramayana and the ancient scriptures known as the Puranas. Lord Krishna and Radha

Kathakali is greatly influenced by various dance styles, martial arts and folk traditions from both Aryan and Dravidian cultures. It can be date back to the 17th century, when the King of Calicut wrote plays about Lord Krishna’s life which evolved a technique of presentation called Krishnattam. Ramanattam, another form of dance-drama considered fore runner to kathakali in its origin, was written by ruler of Kottarakara on life of Lord Rama. Kathakali was given its present form by Mahakavi Vallathol Narayan Menon, who was the founder of the Kerala Kala Mandalam. Though kathakali is only 400 years old, a great deal of enrichment and refinement has taken place in every aspect of its technique during this short period.

The notable features of kathakali are its overwhelming dramatic quality, elaborate and extremely colourful costumes, flowing scarves, ornaments and crowns. It is danced to the musical compositions, involving dialogues, narration and continuity. The movements of the face, the eyebrows, the eyeballs, the cheeks, the nose and the chin are minutely worked out and various emotions are registered in a flash by a kathakali actor-dancer. There are several kinds of costume such as: Sathwika (the hero), Kathi (the villain), Minukku (females), and Thatti. Each character is recognised by their characteristic costume and makeup. The makeup is so elaborate that it looks like a mask. The green coloured faces referring to noble male characters, such as virtuous kings, the divine hero Rama, etc., green make-up, slashed with red marks on the cheeks denotes characters of high birth who have an evil streak, such as the demon king Ravana, predominantly red make-up and a flowing red beard represents valiant characters, whereas women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces.

A traditional kathakali performance starts at dusk and go through out the night, terminating at the auspicious hour of dawn, when good conquers evil. It is usually performed only by men. Female characters are portrayed by men dressed in women's costume. Today, however, it has been modified for the participation of urban audiences and performed in a stage for a couple of hours and in recent years women have started to become kathakali dancers. The orchestra of a kathakali performance includes two drums known as the chenda and the maddalam, along with cymbals and another percussion instrument, the ela taalam. Normally, two singers provide the vocal accompaniment. Using typical music known as Sopanam, kathakali introduces its spectators to the world of wonders.

The kathakali dance is performed in a sequence of Thodayam, Vandanaslokam, Purappad, Melappadam and Dhanasi.

 Thodayam: It is a piece of abstract dance which is also invocatory in nature. It is performed by junior actors in the group with simple make-up.

 Vandanaslokam: Recitation of the prayer song.

 Purappad: Traditionally it is a preliminary item introducing the main character of the story in full costume and make-up. However, now-a-days it is mostly Krishna and Balarama who are presented, sometime with their spouses in this introductory dance.

 Melappadam: It is a musical piece where vocalists and the drummers are given opportunity to show their skill without depending on the actors. It is followed by main enacting the main story proposed.

 Dhanasi: This is the end of the performance which is marked by a piece of pure dance.

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Last updated February 20, 2004