A Kathakali Arangettam
A Kathakali Arangettam

Kathakali (katha for story, kali for performance or play) is an expressive form of Indian dance-drama. It originated in the South Indian state of Kerala, over 500 years ago and is considered as one of the oldest dance forms. It is a spectacular combination of drama, dance, music and ritual. Characters with vividly painted faces and elaborate costumes re-enact stories from the Hindu epics, Mahabharatha and Ramayana.

The most popular stories enacted are Nala Charitam (Story of a king betrayed by Gods), Duryodhana Vadham ( Story from Mahabharat), Kalyanasowgandhikam ( Story of Bhima going to get flowers for Panchali from Mahabharat ), Keechaka Vadham ( another story of Bhima and Panchali from Mahabharat ), Kiratham ( Arjuna and Lord Shiva's fight from Mahabharat ), Karna Shapadham ( another story from Mahabharat), Ramayanam etc. Recently, as part of popularization of this art form new stories like the story of Mary Magdalin from Bible, Shakespeare's King Lear etc are also converted to Katahkali scripts. The language of the songs used for the Katahkali is a mix of Malayalam and Sanskrit. Several poets like Unnayi Warrier have contributed the Kathakali script which is called "Kathakali Padam". Each "Padam" is a poem recited in one of the Karnatic music ragas.

The Kathakali show is usually conducted at night and ends in early morning. The actors will be accompanied by percussionists and singers. The lead singer controls the entire show with rythamic beats of a special musical instrument.

A Kathakali actor uses immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, to prepare for the demanding role of a Kathakali actor. Most of the times, training can last for around 8-10 years to be considered even decently good. In Kathakali, the story is enacted out purely by the movements of hands (called 'mudras' or actions) and facial expressions and bodily movements. A kathakali dancer has perfect control over the facial muscles and can express the various emotions ('lasyams') with charming skill.

Almost always, the viewer is told or is supposed to have knowledge of the story being enacted before the start of the play. Kerala Natanam is a new dance form developed and stylised by the illustrious dancer Dr. Guru Gopinath.

One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. The make-up has 5 main parts to it namely Pacha, Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, Minukku (meaning, green, knife, black, beard or jaw and polish). Characters are categorized according to their nature. This determines the colours used in the make-up. The faces of noble male characters, such as virtuous kings, the divine hero Rama, etc., are predominantly green. Characters of high birth who have an evil streak, such as the demon king Ravana, are allotted a similar green make-up, slashed with red marks on the cheeks. Extremely angry or excessively evil characters wear predominantly red make-up and a flowing red beard. Forest dwellers such as hunters are represented with a predominantly black make-up base. Women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces.

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 Sringraram (amour), Hasyam (ridicule, humour), Bhayam (fear), Karunam (pathos), Rowdram (anger, wrath), Veeram (valour), Bheebalthsam (disgust), Athbutham (wonder, amazement), Saantham (tranquility, peace).

There are 24 main mudras and numerous other lesser mudras and again can be classified into 'Samaana-mudras'(one mudra symbolizing two entities) or misra-mudras (both the hands are used to show these mudras).

Drummers, singers, make-up artists and costumers complete the ensemble of highly trained specialists, to present a Kathakali performance.

Kathakali is a harmonious combination of five forms of fine art:

External links

fr:Kathakali ml:കഥകളി nl:Kathakali


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