Ignoring the first phase when it was "Ramanattam"
, Kathakali had its cradle in Vettathunadu
. Here Vettathu Thampuran
, Kottayathu Thampuran
(This Kottayam is in 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. Even now Kathakali has not changed from this format considerabley in basic details.
After this the most important changes in Kathakali were brought about through the effors of a single person namely, Kaplingattu Narayanan Namboodiri
. 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.
There is no element of Kathakali (Acting, make-up, costume, music, instruments ...) that has not been given a golden touch by this Midas. Whereas the northern school known as Kalladikkodan
after the place where the Kalari
was, gave importance to the hand gestures, rituals and enacting of the script with all classical observance the southern scholl evolved by Kaplingadan
and associates stressed Bhavabhinaya (Facial Expression) more. In other words, Kalladikkodan Kalari
brought hands and body into Kathakali acting while Kaplingadan brought Eyes and Cheek too.
Initially the percussion instruments were playing only during Kalasam. Kaplingadan assisted by Kavungal Panicker who emplyed these instruments as accompaniments for the vocal music as well as support for the acting. The finishing touches he gave to the make-up and costumes are numerous. Kaplingattu Namboodiri lived in the second half of 18th century.
Though sceptic and adament initially, the northern school had to recognize Kaplingadanís reforms. For its popularity was immence. Later Kalluvazhi System evolved in the north, synthesizing the two styles.
Kalamandalam when formed much later adapted Kalluvazhi as its characteristic style. Vallathol and Kalamandalam did not evolve any new style or add much to Kathakaliís style. In fact there was not much scope for improvement, without altering the basic concepts. It has already reached a "perfect" form. The Mahakavi & co worked mainly for formulating a comprehensive carriculam.