Kathakali: The Confluence of Dance, Music, Theatre and Visual Art
Kathakali, the consummate confluence of dance, music, theatre and visual art, is one of Kerala’s prime cultural contributions to the world. The word Kathakali is a combination of two words: ‘Katha’ meaning story and ‘Kali’ meaning dance. Over the years, Kathakali has evolved into an intricate and highly stylized classical dance-drama form complete with elaborate make-up, luxuriant costumes, detailed hand gestures and body movements, performed with traditional percussion in the background. The striking green countenance of Kathakali has come to symbolize the global face of Kerala
The origin of Kathakali dates back to the 16th century A.D to two precursor dance-drama forms ‘Ramanattam’ and ‘Krishnanattam’. Kathakali has derived a major share of its techniques from these two art forms besides other ritualistic and traditional art forms like ‘Koodiyattom’, ‘Ashtapadiyattom’ and to a lesser extent, folk arts like ‘Porattunatakam’. ‘Kalaripayattu’, the martial art of Kerala has had a significant influence on the body language of Kathakali. Along its evolutionary course down the centuries, many of the rituals and practices unique to these and many other traditional art forms have become integral to Kathakali as we know it today.
The classical elements of fine arts that make up the essence of Kathakali are ‘Natya’ (enactment-histrionics), ‘Nritham’ (Dance), ‘Nrithyam’ (Expressions) while ‘Geetha’ (Song/Vocal accompaniment) and ‘Vadyam’ (Percussion) play a supplementary role in creating a wholesome theatrical spectacle. Traditionally the stories enacted in Kathakali are adapted from the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata though the advent of globalization has led to western classics like ‘King Lear’ and ‘Othello’ being adapted to give it a global appeal. Though traditionally, Kathakali performances are known to extend throughout the night, shorter versions are the norm these days to cater to today’s time-conscious aficionados.
The intricate and elaborate make up of Kathakali, called the ‘chutty’ is an entire art form in itself, focusing on enhancing the dramatic element of Kathakali. Various predominant shades are used to symbolize the various ‘Gunas’ (qualities) in its characters like ‘Saatvika’ meaning Godliness symbolized by green, ‘Rajasic’ meaning Violence symbolized by red, ‘Tamasic’ meaning evil symbolized by black. A Kathakali performer has to undergo years of intense training to achieve the immense concentration, physical stamina and skill that this art form demands. Its subtle nuances are better appreciated with a basic knowledge of the ‘Mudras’ (gestures) and a general awareness of the tale being narrated. The Kathakali recital is a visual and aural treat for the layman and connoisseur alike and and for many it is the true essence of Kerala, Gods Own Country.