Cyber Kerala

More About Kathakali

Kathakali is a harmonious combination of five forms of fine art:
1. Literature (Sahithyam)
2. Music (Sangeetham)
3. Painting (Chithram)
4. Acting (Natyam)
5. Dance (Nritham)

The role of each of these art forms is very vital in the making of Kathakali what it is, the King of performing arts, particularly theatre.

Kathakali Performance

The headgear worn by the various characters in Kathakali are excellent specimen of intricate wood carving, an ancient speciality of the region. Even the shiny finishing with trinkets take hours of painstaking labour by expert craftsmen. Most of the ornaments donning each character are made in this fashion too.

The make-up, called Chutty in the bibliography of Kathakali, is also an art form in itself. The colourful faces are the results of hours of painstaking handiwork by expert artists. Their work is, by no means subordinate to portrait painting. The basic materials used for the make up are very crude items like raw amorphous Sulphur, Indigo, Rice paste, Lime, Coconut oil etc.

One of the major distinguishing features of Kathakali is the absence of oral communication. A considerable part of the script is in the form of lyrics, sung by vocalists. The only accompaniments are percussion instruments. Chenda (Drum played with sticks) Maddalam (Drum played with fingers), Chengila (Gong) and Ilathalam (Cymbals). The style of music traditionally accepted is Sopana, where the range is limited to one and half octaves. However, the influence of Karnataka Style of Classical Music has been irresistible, and the singers often take liberty with the style. It is not unusual that a Kathakali performance take the form of a Jugalbandi (Duet) of singing and acting.

Drumming especially of Chenda is the salient feature of Kathakali. Formerly considered an "Asura Vadyam" meaning one that cannot go in harmony, Chena has become the most important feature. Artists are capable of producing a range of sounds varying from the gentle rattle of dry leaves in a breeze to reverberating thunder on Chenda.

Although dance is an important element in Kathakali, it is not the main feature. Pure dance sequences are limited to Kalasams, which punctuate acting segments. Female characters spontaneously breaking into "Sari" and "Kummi" dances can be seen in few dramas. The accent in Kathakali is more on the Thandava style of dancing than on Lasya style. Hence the movements are often explosive. Delicate movements are rare.

The communication among the characters and to the audience, is through an intricate language of hand gestures, used in combination with facial expression and body movements. Kathakali follows the language of Mudras, as described in "Hasthalakshana Deepika". (See Mudras)

Major Kathakali Centres of Kerala:
1. Kerala Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy, Trissur District.
2. P.S.V. Natyasangham, Kottakkal, Calicut District.
3. Unnayivarrier Smaraka Kalanilayam, Iringalakkuda, Thrissur District.
4. Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Pathirippala, Palakkad District.
5. Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, Thiruvananthapuram District.
6. R.L.V. Thripunithura, Ernakulam Dt.
7. Cochin Cultural Centre, Cochin, Ernakulam District
8. Mudra Kathakali Centre, Kumily, Idukki District.

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