Arts & Culture - Kerala


For the lover of dance, drama and music, Kerala is heaven. You have scores of art forms, which are quite unique in nature to Kerala, like Kathakali, Ottamthullal, Chakyar Koothu, Krishnanattam, Padayani, Pavakathakali, Theyyam, Velakali, Thiruvathirakali, Kolkali etc. Watch them and experience an endless and varied emotions  to win your passion, love, kindness, compassion, mirth, joy, sorrow, grief, anger, wonder, horror, fear, valour, courage etc. And then relax with the thought, all the world is a stage.

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Is Kathakali a stylized dance-drama?  Is it a pantomime? Can it be called a classical ballet?  One of the world's top-ranking poets and Nobel Laureates Rabindranath Tagore was instantly impressed by the aesthetic range and the narrative techniques of Kathakali when Kalamandalam presented a programme in Santiniketan.  Along with Manipuri Tagore included Kathakali in the curriculum of Viswabharati. Kathakali was born only in the 17th century.  But in less than four centuries it grew up to represent India's cultural heritage to the world outside.  An eclectic art Kathakali evolved its classicism receiving inspiration from most of its predecessors such as  Koodiyaattam, Krishnanaattam, Raamanaattam, Theyyam,  Mudiyeettu and martial arts  like  Padayani and Kalarippayattu.  

Kathakali plays have their themes selected  from the great Indian epics, Raamayana, Mahaabhaarata, and the Bhaagavata.  The play synchronizes on stage nritta (pure dance),  nritya (expressional dance), naatya (histrionics),geeta (vocal music)  and  vaadya (percussion ensemble).  Kathakali characters communicate through the language of hand-gestures (over six hundred gestures are in use), body movements and facial expressions.  The text of the play is sung by the principal and supporting vocalists.  The dancers simiotically translate the songs into appropriate gestures, movements and expressions.  Chenda and Maddalam are the two major percussion instruments used in Kathakali.  They provide audio effect to the performance by tracing the character.

A colorfully decorated piece of cloth functioning as a curtain, movable to any part of the stage and calledtirassiila  is held by two persons  just before the entry and exit of all  main characters and on other specific occasions such as manifestation of deities.  This is a traditional theatrical device to transcend time and space. The Malayalam term tirassiila  means ‘wave cloth’. The allusion is to the popular belief that the king of Kottaarakkara, who formalized Raamanaattam, the immediate predecessor of Kathakali  visualized  the superhuman characters as though they were playing on the waves of ocean.  It may also be noted in this connection that it is the  portion below the skirt of the Kathakali characters which appears to have received the least attention of  the costuming and make-up artist. 

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Kathakali make-up and costuming ( the aahaarya aspect of acting ) is intricate, elaborate and colorful.  It takes about  three hours for an actor to transform into a full-fledged character with facial make-up, head-gear, ornaments and colorful costumes.  Kathakali characters are broadly divided into noble, wicked and grotesque.  Their make-up and costumes differ from one another.  Love, Separation, virtue vs vice, comic-relief, emotional struggles, gruesome-war and murder are common scenes in the  Kathakali plays.  More than the themes, the stylistics of individual performers is the abiding passion of Kathakali fans.