Kathakali is a highly stylized classical Indiandance-drama noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion. It originated in the country's present day state of Kerala during the 17th century and has developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming.
OriginKathakali originated from a precursor dance-drama form called Ramanattam and owes it share of techniques also to Krishnanattam. The word "attam" means enactment. In short, these two forerunning forms to Kathakali dealt with presentation of the stories of Hindu gods Rama and Krishna.
Kottarakkarao complement Krishnanattam, which had its origin under the Zamorins of Kozhikode.
Ignoring the first phase when it was Ramanattam, Kathakali had its cradle in Vettattnad. Here Vettathu Thampuran, Kottayathu Thampuran (This Kottayam is in Malabar [see Kottayam (Malabar)] and many dedicated artists like Chathu Panicker laid foundations for what is known as Kathakali now. Their efforts were concentrated on the rituals, classical details and scriptural perfection. The Kottaythu Thampuran composed four great works, ...viz. Kirmeeravadham, Bakavadham, Nivathakavacha Kalakeyavadham and Kalyanasaugandhikam. After this the most important changes in Kathakali were brought about through the effors of a single person namely, Kaplingad Narayanan Nambudiri (1739–1789). He was from the Northern Kerala, but after basic instructions in various faculties of the art in Vettathu Kalari he shifted to Travancore. In the capital and many other centres he found many willing to co-operate with him in bringing about the reformations.
Kathakali also shares a lot of similarities with Krishnanattam, Koodiyattam (a classical Sanskrit drama existing in Kerala) and Ashtapadiyattam (an adaptation of 12th-century musical calledGitagovindam). It also incorporates several other elements from traditional and ritualistic art forms like Mudiyettu, Thiyyattu, Theyyam and Padayani besides a minor share of folk arts likePorattunatakam. All along, the martial art of Kalarippayattu has influenced the body language of Kathakali. The use of Malayalam, the local language (albeit as a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam, calledManipravalam), has also helped the literature of Kathakali sound more transparent for the average audience.
Contemporary trendsAs a part of modernising, propagating, promoting and popularizing Kathakali, the International Centre for Kathakali at New Delhi has taken up a continuing project since 1980 of producing new plays based on not only traditional and mythological stories, but also historical stories, European classics and Shakespeare's plays. Recently they produced Kathakali plays based on Shakespeare's Othello and Greek-Roman mythology of Psyche and Cupid.
Expressions (Natyam, the component with emphasis on facial expressions)
Dance (Nritham, the component of dance with emphasis on rhythm and movement of hands, legs and body)
Enactment (Nrithyam, the element of drama with emphasis on "mudras", which are hand gestures)
Song/vocal accompaniment (Geetha)
Instrument accompaniment (Vadyam)
Even though the lyrics/literature would qualify as another independent element called Sahithyam, it is considered as a component of Geetha or music, as it plays only a supplementary role to Nritham, Nrithyam and Natyam.
Kathakali playsThe Wikipede edits Kathakali Stage.Traditionally there are 101 classical Kathakali stories, though the commonly staged among them these days total less than one-third that number. Almost all of them were initially composed to last a whole night. Nowadays, there is increasing popularity for concise, or oftener select, versions of stories so as the performance lasts not more than three to four hours from evening. Thus, many stories find stage presentation in parts rather than totality. And the selection is based on criteria like choreographical beauty, thematic relevance/popularity or their melodramatic elements. Kathakali is a classical art form, but it can be appreciated also by novices—all contributed by the elegant looks of its character, their abstract movement and its synchronisation with the musical notes and rhythmic beats. And, in any case, the folk elements too continue to exist. For better appreciation, perhaps, it is still good to have an idea of the story being enacted.
MusicThe language of the songs used for Kathakali is Manipravalam. Though most of the songs are set in ragas based on the microtone-heavy Carnatic music, there is a distinct style of plain-note rendition, which is known as the Sopanam style. This typically Kerala style of rendition takes its roots from the temple songs which used to be sung (continues even now at several temples) at the time when Kathakali was born.
ActingA Kathakali actor uses immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from regimented training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, to prepare for his demanding role. The training can often last for 8–10 years, and is intensive. In Kathakali, the story is enacted purely by the movements of the hands (called mudras or hand gestures) and by facial expressions (rasas) and bodily movements. The expressions are derived fromNatyashastra (the tome that deals with the science of expressions) and are classified into nine as in most Indian classical art forms. Dancers also undergo special practice sessions to learn control of their eye movements.
There are 24 basic mudras -- the permutation and combination of which would add up a chunk of the hand gestures in vogue today. Each can again can be classified into 'Samaana-mudras'(one mudra symbolising two entities) or misra-mudras (both the hands are used to show these mudras). The mudras are a form of sign language used to tell the story.
The main facial expressions of a Kathakali artist are the 'navarasams' (Navarasas in anglicised form) (literal translation: Nine Tastes, but more loosely translated as nine feelings or expressions) which are Sringaram (amour), Hasyam (ridicule, humour), Bhayanakam (fear), Karunam (pathos), Roudram (anger, wrath), Veeram (valour), Beebhatsam (disgust), Adbhutam (wonder, amazement), Shantam(tranquility, peace). The link at the end of the page gives more details on Navarasas.
In fact the "chundanga" is not really a seed and is prepared by removing the ovaries at the base of the flowers of this plant. The procedure used for preparing these seeds involves the rubbing of a bunch of these in your palm until they become black (starting from a white color) and nearly dehydrated. They often last long enough for a season (of around four months) in this condition.
Kathakali is still hugely a male domain but, since the 1970s, females too have made entry into the art form on a recognisable scale. The central Kerala temple town of Tripunithura has, in fact, a ladies troupe (with members belonging to several part of the state) that performs Kathakali, by and large inTravancore.
Kathakali stylesKnown as Sampradäyaṃ(Malayalam: സമ്പ്രദായം); these are leading Kathakali styles that differ from each other in subtleties like choreographic profile, position of hand gestures and stress on dance than drama and vice versa. Some of the major original kathakali styles included:
Of late, these have narrowed down to the northern (Kalluvazhi) and southern (Thekkan) styles. It is the highly stylised Kalluvazhi tradition (largely developed by the legendary Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon - 1881-1949) that is implemented in Kerala Kalamandalam (though it has also a department that teaches the southern style), Sadanam, RLV and Kottakkal. Margi has its training largely based on the Thekkan style, known for its stress on drama and part-realistic techniques. Kalanilayam, effectively, churns out students with a mix of both styles.
Other forms of dance and offshootsKerala Natanam is a kind of dance form, partly based on Kathakali techniques and aesthetics, developed and stylised by the late dancer Guru Gopinath in the mid-20th century. Kathakali also finds portrayal in Malayalam feature films like Vanaprastham, Parinayam, Marattam, and Rangam. Besides documentary films have also been shot on Kathakali artistes like Chenganoor Raman Pillai, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Gopi and Kottakkal Sivaraman. As for fictional literature, Kathakali finds mention in several Malayalam short stories like Karmen (by N.S. Madhavan) and novels like Keshabharam (by P.V. Sreevalsan). Even the Indo-Anglian work like Arundhati Roy's Booker prize-winning The God of Small Things has a chapter on Kathakali, while, of late, Anita Nair's novel, Mistress, is entirely wrapped in the ethos of Kathakali.
Another variation of Kathakali that is popular in Kasargodu district of Kerala and costal karnataka is yakshagana. Though, Yakshagana resembles Kathakali from Kerala in terms of its costume and makeup, it is different in a way that it also involves dialogue.
Kottayam thamburan's way of presenting kathakali was later known as Kallikkoden sambradayam. Chathu Paniker,the introducer of Kallikkoden Sambrathayam, stayed in Kottayam for five years with Kottayam Thamburan's residence and practiced Kallikkoden Sambrathayam. Then he returned to his home place. After a short period Chathu Paniker reached Pulapatta as instructed by Kuthiravattath nair. That was around the year ME 865. Many deciples from Kadathanadu, Kurumbra nadu, Vettathu nadu, Palakkadu and Perumpadappu studied kathakali(Kallikkoden Sambrathayam ) By that time Chathu Paniker was an old man. Some years later he died from Pulapatta.
Attams or more specifically "elaki attams" are sequences of acting within a story acted out with the help of mudras without support from vocal music. The actor has the freedom to change the script to suit his own individual preferences. The actor will be supported ably by Chenda, Maddalam, and Elathalam(compulsory), Chengila(not very compulsory). The following are only some examples. 'Kailasa Udharanam' and 'Tapas Attam' are very important but not described here (willbe added later). Two of the many references are:
1. 'Kathakali Prakaram'- pages 95 to 142 by Pannisheri Nanu Pillai.
2. 'Kathakaliyile Manodharmangal' by Chavara Appukuttan Pillai.
1. VANA VARNANA - Bhima in Kalyana Saugandhika. Modern man looks at the forest, indeed the birthplace of primates, with a certain wonder and a certain respect. Kathakali characters are no exception. When Pandavas were living in the forest, one day, a flower, not seen before, wafted by the wind, comes and falls at the feet of Panchali. Exhilarated by its beauty and smell, Panchali asks Bhima to bring her more such flowers. To her pleasure Bhima is ready to go at once. But Panchali asks him what he shall do for food and drink on the way. Bhima thinks and says " Food and Drink! Oh, this side glance (look) of your's. This look of longing. This look of anticipation. The very thought fills me up. I dont need any food and drink at all. Let me go." He takes his mace and off he goes. Ulsaham (Enthusiasm ) is his Sdhayi Bhavam (Permanent Feature). "Let me go at once in search of this flower" says Bhima "The scented wind is blowing from the southern side. Let me go that way". After walking some distance he sees a huge mountain called Gandhamadana, and three ways. He decides to take the middle one which goes over the mountain. After going further "The forest is getting thicker. Big trees, big branches in all directions. The forest looks like a huge dark vessel into which even light can not penetrate. This is my (Bhima's) way. Nothing can hinder me" . So saying he pulls down many trees. Sometimes he shatters the trees with his mace. Suddenly he sees an elephant. "Oh! Elephant". He describes it. Its trunck. Sharp ears. The itching sensation in the body. It takes some mud and throws on the body. Oh good. Then it sucks water and throws on the body. Somewhat better. Slowly it starts dosing even though alert at times. A very huge python is approaching steadily. Suddenly it catches hold of the elephant's hind leg. The elephant wakes up and tries to disengage the python. The python pulls to one side. The elephant kicks and drags to the other side. This goes on for some time. Bhima looks to the other side where a hungry lion is looking for food. It comes running and strikes the elephants head and eats part of the brain and goes off. The python completes the rest . "Oh my god, how ruthless!" says Bhima and proceeds on his way.
2. UDYANA VARNANA - Nala in Nalacharitham 2nd day Descriptions of Gardens are found in most dance forms of India and Abroad. These are also common in Kathakali. Newly married Nala and Damayanthi are walking in the garden. When Nala was lovingly looking at Damayanthi a flower falls on Damayanthi. Nala is overjoyed and thinks that this is a kindness nature has shown on his wife. Nala says " On seeing the arrival of their queen, the trees and climbers are showing happiness by dropping flowers on you." He tells her " See that tree. When I used to be alone the tree used to hug the climber and seemingly laugh at my condition". Then he looks at the tree and says " Dear Tree, Look at me now. See how fortunate I am with my beautiful wife." Both wander about. A bumble bee flies towards Damayanthi. Immediately Nala protects her face with a kerchief. He looks at the bee and then at Damayanthi. He says " On seeing your face the bee thought it was a flower and came to drink the nector." Nala and Damayanthi listen to the various sounds coming out of the garden. Damayanti says " It appears that the whole garden is thrilled. The flowers are blooming and smiling. Cuckoos are singing and the bees are dancing. Gentle winds are blowing and rubbing against our bodies. How beautiful the whole garden looks." Then Nala says that the sun is going down and it is time for them to go back and takes her away.
3. SHABDA VARNANA - Hanuman in Kalyana Saugandhikam While Bhima goes in search of the flower, here Hanuman is sitting doing Tapas with mind concentrated on Sri Rama. When he hears the terrible noises made by Bhima in the forest he feels disturbed in doing his Tapas. He thinks "What is the reason for this?". Then the sounds become bigger. "What is this?" he thinks "The sounds are getting bigger. Such a terrible noise. Is the sea coming up thinking that the time is ripe for the great deluge(Pralaya). Birds are flying helter - skelter. Trees look shocked. Even Kali Yuga is not here. Then what is it ? Are mountains quarreling with each other? No, That cant be it. Indra had cut off the wings of mountains so that they don't quarrel. Is the sea changing its position? No it cant be. The sea has promised it will not change its position again. It cant break the promise." Hanuman starts looking for clues. "I see elephants and lions running in fear of somebody. Oh a huge man is coming this way. Oh, a hero is coming. He is pulling out trees and throwing it here and there. Okay. Let him come near, We will see."
4. THANDEDATTAM - Ravana in Bali Vadham After his theranottam Ravana is seen sitting on a stool. He says to himself " I am enjoying a lot of happiness. What is the reason for this?" Thinks. " Yes I know it. I did Tapas to Brahma and received all necessary boons. Afterwards I won all ten directions. I also defeated my elder brother Vaishravana. Then I lifted Kailas mountain when Siva and Parvathi were having a misunderstanding. Parvathi got frightened and embraced Siva in fear. Siva was so happy he gave a divine sword called Chandrahasa. Now the whole world is afraid of me. That is why I am enjoying so much happiness. " He goes and sits on the stool. He looks far away. " Who is coming from a distance. he is coming fast. Oh it is Akamba. Okay. Let me find out what news he has for me."
5. ASHRAMA VARNA - Arjuna in Kiratham Arjuna wants to do Tapas to Lord Siva and he is looking a suitable place in the Himalayan slopes. He comes to place where there is an Ashram. Arjuna looks closely at the place. " Oh. What a beautiful place this is. A small river in which a very pure water is flowing. Some hermits are takimng bath in the river. Some hermits are standing in the water and doing Tapsas. Some are facing the Sun. Some are standing in between five fires. Arjuna salutes the Hermits from far. Arjuna says to himself " Look at this young one of a deer. It is looking for its mother. It seems to be hungry and thirsty. Nearby a female tiger is feeding its young ones. The little deer goes towards the tigress and pushes the young tiger cubs aside and starts drinking milk from the Tigress. The Tigress looks lovingly at the young deer and even licks its body as if it were its own child. How beautiful. How fulfilling." Again he looks " Here on this side a mongoose and a serpent forgetting their enemity are hugging each other. Thisplace is really strange and made divine by saints and hermits. Let me start my Tapas somewhere nearby." A sloka called "Shikhini Shalabha" can also be selected instead of the above if time permits.
6. AN ATTAM BASED ON A SLOKA Sansrit slokas are sometimes shown in mudras and it has a pleasing and exhilarating effect. Different actors use slokas as per his own taste and liking. However the slokas are taught to students during their training period. An example is given below. Sloka: Kusumo Kusumolpatti Shrooyathena Chathushyathe Bale thava Mukhambuje Pashya Neelolpaladwayam Meaning: A flower blooming inside another flower is not known to history. But, my dear, in your lotus like face are seen two blue Neelolpala flowers (eyes).
7. A CONVERSATION BASED ON A SLOKA Sanskrit slokas can also be used to express an intent. One such example is a sloka used by Arjuna addressed to Mathali the charioteer in Kalakeya Vadham. Sloka: Pitha: Kushalee Mama hritha Bhujaam Naatha Sachee Vallabha: Maatha: kim nu Pralomacha Kushalinee Soonurjayanthasthayo Preethim va Kushchate Thadikshnavidhow Cheta Samutkanuthe Sutha: tvam Radhamashu Chodaya vayam Dharmadivam Mathala Meaning: The husband of Indrani and the lord of gods my father - Is he in good health? His son Jayantha - Is he strictly following the commands of his father? Oh, I am impatient to see all of them. 8. SWARGA VARNANA -Arjuna in Kalakeya Vadham Arjuna goes to heaven on the invitation of his father, Indra. After taking permission from Indrani he goes out to see all the places in Swarga. First he sees a building, his father's palace. It is so huge with four entrances. It is made of materials superior to gold and jewels of the world. Then he goes ahead and sees Iravatha. Here he describes it as a huge elephant with four horns. He is afraid to touch it. Then he thinks that animals in Swarga can't be cruel like in the world and so thinking he goes and touches and salutes Iravatha. He also describes the churning of the white sea by gods and demons with many details and how Iravatha also came out of the white sea due to this churning. He walks on and sees his father's (Indra's) horse. It is described as being white and its mane is sizzling like the waves of the white sea from which it came. He touches and salutes the horse also. Then he goes to see the river of the sky (or milky way). He sees many birds by this river and how the birds fly and play is also shown. Then he sees the heavenly ladies. Some are collecting flowers, and one of them comes late and asks for some flowers for making garland. The others refuse. She goes to the Kalpa Vriksha and says 'please give me some flowers'. Immediately a shower of flowers occurs which she collects in her clothes and goes to make garlands chiding the others "See.. I also got flowers". After this he sees the music and dance of the heavenly ladies. First it starts with the adjustments of various instruments Thamburu, Mridangam, Veena and then the actual music starts along with the striking of cymbols. Then two or three types of dances are shown. Then comes juggling of balls. It is described by a sloka thus: Sloka:
Ekopi Thraya Iva Bhathi Kandukoyam Kanthayaa: Karathala Raktharaktha: Abhrastho Nayanamareechi Neelaneelo Bhumau Talcharana Naghamshu Gaurgaura: Meaning: One ball looks like three balls. When it is in the hands of the juggler, it takes the redness of the hands, when it goes up it takes the blueness of the eyes, when it strikes the ground it becomes white from the whiteness of the leg nails. Once a juggled ball falls down. Then she, the juggler, somehow manages to proceed and remarks "See.. how I can do it". At one time a garment slips from a lady's body and she adjusts the cloth showing shameful shyness (Lajja). Then the ladies go in for a Kummi dance. As Arjuna was enjoying this dance, suddenly somebody calls him. Arjuna feels scared. 'Oh God, where am I?' he says, and then he beats a hasty retreat
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