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Kathakali Dance


Kerala owes its transnational fame to the nearly 300-year-old classical dance form of Kathakali, which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and pantomime. It is said to have evolved from other performing arts like Kootiyattam and Ramanattam.

Kathakali explicates events and stories from the Indian Epics and 'Puranas', ancient scriptures. 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 dancers adorn themselves with huge skirts and head-dress, wearing a most intricate style of make-up. The richness of this riveting mix of colour, expression, music, drama and dance is unparalleled in any other art form.

The dance form requires lengthy and rigorous training to attain complete control of the body and a sensitivity to emotion so as to be able to render all its nuances through facial expressions and hand gestures. Themes revolve around the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha.

Kathakali Training
Kathakali lays great emphasis on complex body movements and facial expressions. It is an exacting art form, which demands years of rigorous training. Until the beginning of this century, Kathakali aspirants stayed with the Guru or teacher, right from a young age and underwent a twelve-year course.

With the advent of formal training centres, this 'Gurukula' system has virtually disappeared. As in Kalarippayattu, massage forms an integral part of Kathakali training. The massage aims at acquiring body suppleness.

Students of Kathakali have to undergo rigorous training replete with oil massages and separate exercises for the eyes, lips, cheeks and the neck. 'Abhinaya' or expression is of as prime importance as 'nritya' or dance and 'geetham' or song.

Complementing highly evocative facial expressions, the 'mudras', and the music- both vocal and instrumental, Kathakali unfolds stories from a bygone era with finesse reminiscent of the Greek plays.
Accompanying Instruments
The orchestra consists of two drums- the 'Maddalam' and 'Chenda', the 'Chengila', which is a bell metal gong and the 'Ilathalam' or cymbals.
Costumes / Accessories / Make Up
The costume is elaborate with lots of paint applied on the face of the artist. The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partly due to its décor, part of which include the 'Kireetam' or huge head gear, the 'Kanchukam' or the over sized jacket, and the long skirt worn over a thick padding of cushions.

The identity of the actor is completely negated to create a superhuman being of larger-than-life proportions. Great importance is laid on the 'Vesham', or make-up which is of five types- 'Pacha', Kathi', 'Thadi', 'Kari' and Minukku'.

1. Pacha (Green):
'Pacha Vesham' or the green make-up portrays noble protagonists.

2. Kathi (Knife):
Kathi Vesham portrays villainous characters.

3. Kari (Black):
Kari Vesham is used for demonesses.

4. Minukku (Prettying Up):
The 'Minukku Vesham' is used for female characters and sages.

5. Thadi (Beard):
There are three types of beards or 'Thadi Veshams', namely:
· 'Vella Thadi' or white beard is for super-human characters like Hanuman, the Monkey God.
· 'Chuvanna thadi' or the red beard is for evil characters.
· 'Karutha thadi' or the black beard is for the hunter.
Dance Style
The Language Of The Dancer: Mudra
Mudra is a stylized gestural language, used to depict an idea, a situation or a state of being. A Kathakali actor conveys his ideas through 'mudras'. For this, he follows a codified sign Language based on the 'Hastalakshana Deepika', a treatise on the language of hand gestures, and the 'Natya Sasthra'.

Mohniyattam, another classical dance, too follows the same pattern of mudras as is used in Kathakali. There are twenty-four basic 'mudras', using one or both hands in addition to combinations of body postures and facial expressions. They also undergo variations in meaning depending on the context. Certain 'mudras' can have upto thirty or forty meanings.

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