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