The Info List - Kathakali

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KATHAKALI ( Malayalam : കഥകളി, kathakaḷi) is one of the major forms of classical Indian dance . It is another "story play" genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colorful make-up, costumes and facemasks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear. Kathakali primarily developed as a Hindu performance art in the Malayalam -speaking southwestern region of India ( Kerala ).

Kathakali's roots are unclear. The fully developed style of Kathakali originated around the 17th century, but its roots are in temple and folk arts (such as _Kutiyattam_ and religious drama of the southwestern Indian peninsula), which are traceable to at least the 1st millennium CE. A Kathakali performance, like all classical dance arts of India, synthesizes music, vocal performers, choreography and hand and facial gestures together to express ideas. However, Kathakali differs in that it also incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts and athletic traditions of South India. Kathakali also differs in that the structure and details of its artform developed in the courts and theatres of Hindu principalities, unlike other classical Indian dances which primarily developed in Hindu temples and monastic schools.

The traditional themes of the Kathakali are folk mythologies, religious legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu epics and the Puranas . The vocal performance has traditionally been performed in Sanskritised Malayalam. In modern compositions, Indian Kathakali troupes have included women artists, as well as adapted Western stories and plays such as those by Shakespeare and from Christianity.


* 1 Etymology and nomenclature

* 2 History

* 2.1 Links to older performance arts: Kutiyattam and Krishnanattam

* 3 Repertoire

* 3.1 Costumes * 3.2 Acting * 3.3 Sequence

* 4 Songs and musical instruments

* 5 Traditional plays

* 5.1 Offshoots and modern adaptations

* 6 Styles: Sampradayam

* 7 Training centers and awards

* 7.1 Awards for Kathakali artistes

* 8 Relationship to other dance forms * 9 See also * 10 Notes

* 11 References

* 11.1 Bibliography

* 12 External links


The term _Kathakali_ is derived from _Katha_ (Sanskrit: "कथा") which means "story, or a conversation, or a traditional tale", and _Kali_ (from _Kala_, "कला") which means "performance and art".


According to Phillip Zarrilli, elements and aspects of Kathakali can be found in ancient Sanskrit texts such as the Natya Shastra . The Natya Shastra is attributed to sage Bharata , and its first complete compilation is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE, but estimates vary between 500 BCE and 500 CE.

The most studied version of the Natya Shastra text consists of about 6000 verses structured into 36 chapters. The text, states Natalia Lidova, describes the theory of Tāṇḍava dance ( Shiva ), the theory of rasa, of bhāva, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, standing postures – all of which are part of Indian classical dances including Kathakali. Dance and performance arts, states this ancient Hindu text, are a form of expression of spiritual ideas, virtues and the essence of scriptures.

The roots of Kathakali are unclear. Jones and Ryan state it is more than 500 years old. According to Phillip Zarrilli, Kathakali emerged as a distinct genre of performance art during the 16th and 17th centuries in a coastal population of south India that spoke Malayalam (now Kerala ). The roots of Kathakali, states Mahinder Singh, are more ancient and some 1500 years old. _ Top: Ancient Kuttiyattam _. Bottom: _Kathakali_ ( Mahabharata characters playing _Choothu_)


According to Farley Richmond and other scholars, Kathakali shares many elements such as costumes with ancient Indian performance arts such as _Kutiyattam_ (classical Sanskrit drama) and medieval era _Krishnanattam_, even though a detailed examination shows differences. _Kutiyattam_, adds Richmond, is "one of the oldest continuously performed theatre forms in India, and it may well be the oldest surviving art form of the ancient world". _Kutiyattam_, traditionally, was performed in theatres specially designed and attached to Hindu temples, particularly dedicated to the Shiva and later to Krishna . The designs of these theatres usually matched the dimensions and architecture recommended as "ideal" in the ancient _Natya Shastra_, and some of them could house 500 viewers.

_Krishnanattam_ is the likely immediate precursor of Kathakali, states Zarrilli. _Krishnanattam_ is dance-drama art form about the life and activities of Hindu god Krishna , that developed under the sponsorship of Sri Manavedan Raja, the ruler of Calicut (1585-1658 AD). The traditional legend states that Kottarakkara Thampuran (also known as Vira Kerala Varma) requested the services of a _Krishnanattam_ troupe, but his request was denied. So Kottarakkara Thampuran created another art form based on _Krishnanattam_, called it _Ramanattam_ because the early plays were based on the Hindu epic _ Ramayana _, which over time diversified beyond _Ramayana_ and became popular as 'Kathakali'.

Another related performance art is _Ashtapadiyattom_, a dance drama based on the Gita Govinda of the twelfth-century poet Jayadeva , told the story of Krishna embodied as a humble cowherd, his consort Radha, and three cow girls. Kathakali also incorporates several elements from other traditional and ritualistic art forms like Mudiyettu, Teyyam and Padayani besides folk arts such as Porattunatakam that shares ideas with the Tamil _Terukkuthu_ tradition. The south Indian martial art of _Kalarippayattu _ has also influenced Kathakali.

Despite the links, _Kathakali_ is different from temple-driven arts such as "Krishnanattam", _Kutiyattam_ and others because unlike the older arts where the dancer-actor also had to be the vocal artist, _Kathakali_ separated these roles allowing the dancer-actor to excel in and focus on choreography while the vocal artists focused on delivering their lines. _Kathakali_ also expanded the performance repertoire, style and standardized the costume making it easier for the audience to understand the various performances and new plays.


_Kathakali_ is structured around plays called _Attakatha_ (literally, "enacted story" ), written in Sanskritized Malayalam. These plays are written in a particular format that helps identify the "action" and the "dialogue" parts of the performance. The _Shloka_ part is the metrical verse, written in third person – often entirely in Sanskrit - describing the action part of the choreography. The _Pada_ part contains the dialogue part. These _Attakatha_ texts grant considerable flexibility to the actors to improvise. Historically, all these plays were derived from Hindu texts such as the _Ramayana_, the _Mahabharata_ and the _ Bhagavata Purana _.

A _Kathakali_ repertoire is an operatic performance where an ancient story is playfully dramatized. Traditionally, a Kathakali performance is long, starting at dusk and continuing through dawn, with interludes and breaks for the performers and audience. Some plays continued over several nights, starting at dusk everyday. Modern performances are shorter. The stage with seating typically in open grounds outside a temple, but in some places special theatres called _Kuttampalam_ built inside the temple compounds have been in use.

The stage is mostly bare, or with a few drama-related items. One item, called a Kalivilakku (kali meaning dance; vilakku meaning lamp), can be traced back to Kuttiyattam. In both traditions, the performance happens in the front of a huge Kalivilakku with its thick wick sunk in coconut oil, burning with a yellow light. Traditionally, before the advent of electricity, this special large lamp provided light during the night. As the play progressed, the actor-dancers would gather around this lamp so that audience could see what they are expressing.

The performance involves actor-dancers in the front, supported by musicians in the background stage on right (audience's left) and with vocalists in the front of the stage (historically so they could be heard by the audience before the age of microphone and speakers). Typically, all roles are played by male actor-dancers, though in modern performances, women have been welcomed into the Kathakali tradition.


Kathakali is famed for its elaborate costumes and facial painting

Of all classical Indian dances, Kathakali has the most elaborate costuming consisting of head dresses, face masks and vividly painted faces. It typically takes several evening hours to prepare a Kathakali troupe to get ready for a play. Costumes have made Kathakali's popularity extend beyond adults, with children absorbed by the colors, makeup, light and sound of the performance.

The makeup follows an accepted code, that helps the audience easily identify the archetypical characters such as gods, goddesses, demons, demonesses, saints, animals and characters of a story. Seven basic makeup types are used in Kathakali, namely _Pacha_ (green), _Pazhuppu_ (ripe), _Kathi_(knife), _Kari_, _Thaadi_, _Minukku_ and _Teppu_. These vary with the styles and the predominant colours made from rice paste and vegetable colors that are applied on the face. Pachcha (green) with lips painted brilliant coral red portrays noble characters and sages such as Krishna , Vishnu , Rama , Shiva , Surya , Yudhishthira , Arjuna , Nala and philosopher-kings.

_Tati_ (red) is the code for someone with an evil streak such as Ravana , Dushasana and Hiranyakashipu . Some characters have green face (representing heroic or excellences as a warrior) with red dots or lines on their cheeks or red colored mustache or red streaked beard (representing evil inner nature), while others have full face and beard colored red, the latter implying excessively evil characters. Kari (black) is the code for forest dwellers, hunters, and middle ground character. Demonesses and treacherous characters are also painted black but with streaks or patches of red.

Yellow is the code for monks, mendicants and women. _Minukka_ (radiant, shining) with a warm yellow, orange or saffron typifies noble, virtuous feminine characters such as Sita , Panchali and Mohini. Men who act the roles of women also add a false top knot to their left and decorate it in a style common to the region. Vella Thadi (white beard) represents a divine being, someone with virtuous inner state and consciousness such as Hanuman . _Teppu_ are for special characters found in Hindu mythologies, such as Garuda , Jatayu and Hamsa who act as messengers or carriers, but do not fit the other categories. Face masks and head gear is added to accentuate the inner nature of the characters. The garments colors have a similar community accepted code of silent communication.

The character types, states Zarrilli, reflect the Guṇa theory of personalities in the ancient Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy . There are three Guṇas, according to this philosophy, that have always been and continue to be present in all things and beings in the world. These three _Guṇas_ are _sattva _ (goodness, constructive, harmonious, virtuous), _rajas _ (passion, aimless action, dynamic, egoistic), and _tamas _ (darkness, destructive, chaotic, viciousness). All of these three _gunas_ (good, evil, active) are present in everyone and everything, it is the proportion that is different, according to Hindu worldview. The interplay of these _gunas_ defines the character of someone or something, and the costumes and face coloring in Kathakali often combines the various color codes to give complexity and depth to the actor-dancers.


_ Sringara_, one of the nine facial expressions mentioned in Natyasastra.

Like many classical Indian arts, Kathakali is choreography as much as it is acting. It is said to be one of the most difficult styles to execute on stage, with young artists preparing for their roles for several years before they get a chance to do it on stage. The actors speak a "sign language ", where the word part of the character's dialogue are expressed through "hand signs (mudras)", while emotions and mood is expressed through "facial and eye" movements. In parallel, vocalists in the background sing rhythmically the play, matching the beats of the orchestra playing, thus unifying the ensemble into a resonant oneness.

Several ancient Sanskrit texts such as _Natya Shastra_ and _Hastha Lakshanadeepika_ discuss hand gestures or mudras. Kathakali follows the _Hastha Lakshanadeepika_ most closely, unlike other classical dances of India.

There are 24 main mudras , and numerous more minor ones in Kathakali. There are nine facial expressions called _Navarasas_, which each actor masters through facial muscle control during his education, in order to express the emotional state of the character in the play. The theory behind the _Navarasas_ is provided by classical Sanskrit texts such as Natya Shastra, but sometimes with different names, and these are found in other classical Indian dances as well. The nine _ Navarasas _ express nine _Bhava_ (emotions) in Kathakali as follows: _Sringara_ expresses _Rati_ (love, pleasure, delight), _Hasya_ expresses _Hasa_ (comic, laugh, mocking), _Karuna_ expresses _Shoka_ (pathetic, sad), _Raudra_ expresses _Krodha_ (anger, fury), _Vira_ expresses _Utsaha_ (vigor, enthusiasm, heroic), _Bhayanaka_ expresses _Bhaya_ (fear, concern, worry), _Bibhatsa_ expresses _Jugupsa_ (disgust, repulsive), _Adbhuta_ expresses _Vismaya_ (wondrous, marvel, curious) and _Shanta_ expresses _Sama_ (peace, tranquility).


A Kathakali performance typically starts with artists tuning their instruments and warming up with beats, signaling to the arriving audience that the artists are getting ready and the preparations are on. The repertoire includes a series of performances. First comes the _Totayam_ and _Puruppatu_ performances, which are preliminary 'pure' (abstract) dances that emphasize skill and pure motion. _Totayam_ is performed behind a curtain and without all the costumes, while _Puruppatu_ is performed without the curtain and in full costumes.

The expressive part of the performance, which constitutes the dance-drama, is split into four tyes: _Kalasam_ (major and most common), _Iratti_ (special, used with battles-related _Cempata_ rhythm), _Tonkaram_ (similar to _Iratti_ but different music), and _Nalamiratti_ (used for exits or link between the chapters of the play).

Entrance of characters onto the Kathakali stage can be varied. Many of these ways are not found in other major Indian classical dance traditions. Kathakali engages several methods: 1) direct without special effects or curtain; 2) through the audience, a method that engages the audience, led by torch bearers since Kathakali is typically a night performance; 3) tease and suspense called _nokku_ or _tirassila_ or _tiranokku_, where the character is slowly revealed by the use of a curtain. The "tease" method is typically used for characters with hidden, dangerous intentions.


_ Three types of drums of Kathakali: Maddalam_ (left), _Centa_ and _Idakka_ (right).

The play is in the form of verses that are metered and lyrical, sung by vocalists whose voice has been trained to various melodies (_raga_), music and synchronized with the dance-acting on the stage. The vocalists not only deliver the lines, but help set the context and express the inner state of the character by modulating their voice. For example, anger is expressed by the use of sharp high voice and pleading is expressed by the use of a tired tone.

Music is central to a Kathakali performance. It sets the mood and triggers emotions resonant with the nature of the scene. It also sets the rhythm to which the actor-dancers perform the choreography and scenes. Some major musical patterns, according to Clifford and Betty, that go with the moods and content of the scene are: _Cempata_ (most common and default that applies to a range of moods, in battles and fights between good and evil, also to conclude a scene); _Campa_ music (depict tension, dispute, disagreement between lovers or competing ideas); _Pancari_ (for odious, preparatory such as sharpening a sword); _Triputa_ (thought provoking, scenes involving sages and teachers); _Atanta_ (scenes involving kings or divine beings); _Muri Atanta_ musical style (for comic, light hearted, or fast moving scenes involving heroic or anger-driven activity).

Many musical instruments are used in Kathakali. Three major drums found are _Maddalam_ (barrel shaped), _Centa_ (cylindrical drum played with curved sticks) and _Itaykka_ (_Idakka_, hourglass shaped drum with muted and melodious notes played when female characters perform).


Further information: Aattakatha (performance)

Over five hundred Kathakali plays (_Aattakatha _) exist, most of which were written before the 20th century. Of these, about four dozen are most actively performed. These plays are sophisticated literary works, states Zarrilli, and only five authors have written more than two plays. The late 17th century Unnayi Variyar , in his short life, produced four plays which are traditionally considered the most expressive of the Kathakali playwrights . Typically, his four plays are performed on four nights, and they relate to the mythical Hindu love story of Nala and Damayanti . The Nala-Damanyanti story has roots in the texts of 1st millennium BCE, and is found in the Mahabharata, but the Kathakali play version develops the characters, their inner states, the emotions and their circumstances far more than the older texts.

A tradition Kathakali play typically consists of two interconnected parts, the third-person _Shlokas_ and first-person _Padams_. The _Shlokas_ are in Sanskrit and describe the action in the scene, while _Padams_ are dialogues in Malayalam (Sanskritized) for the actors to interpret and play. A _Padam_ consists of three parts: a _ Pallavi _ (refrain), _ Anupallavi _ (subrefrain) and _Caranam _ (foot), all of which are set to one of the ancient _Ragas _ (musical mode ), based on the mood and context as outlined in ancient Sanskrit texts such as the _Natya Shastra_. In historic practice of a play performance, each _Padam_ was enacted twice by the actor while the vocalists sang the lines repeatedly as the actor-dancer played his role out.

The traditional plays were long, many written to be performed all night, some such as those based on the _ Ramayana _ and the _ Mahabharata _ written to be performed for many sequential nights. However, others such as the _Prahlada Caritam_ have been composed so that they can be performed within four hours. Modern productions have extracted parts of these legendary plays, to be typically performed within 3 to 4 hours.


In modern days, Kathakali artists have been producing new plays based on not only traditional Hindu mythologies, but also European classics and Shakespeare's plays. Recent productions have adapted stories from other cultures and mythologies, such as those of Christianity , Miguel de Cervantes , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and William Shakespeare .


Kathakali has lineages or distinctive schools of play interpretation and dance performance called _Sampradayam_. These developed in part because of the Gurukul system of its transmission from one generation to the next. By the 19th-century, many such styles were in vogue in Malayalam speaking communities of South India, of which two major styles have crystallized and survived into the modern age.

The _Kidangoor_ style is one of the two, that developed in Travancore , and it is strongly influenced by _Kutiyattam_, while also drawing elements of _Ramanattam_ and _Kalladikkotan_. It is traditionally attributed to Nalanunni, under the patronage of Utram Tirunal Maharaja (1815-1861).

The _Kalluvayi_ style is second of the two, which developed in Palakkad (Olappamanna Mana) in central Kerala, and it is a synthesis of the older _Kaplingadan_ and _Kalladikkotan_ performance arts. It is traditionally attributed to Unniri Panikkar, in a Brahmin household (~1850), and became the dominant style established in Kerala Kalamandalam – a school of performance arts.


Kerala Kalamandalam is a major center for Kathakali studies.

Kathakali has traditionally been an art that has continued from one generation to the next through a guru -disciples (_gurukkula_ ) based training system. Artist families tended to pick promising talent from within their own extended families, sometimes from outside the family, and the new budding artist typically stayed with his guru as a student and treated like a member of the family. The guru provided both the theoretical and practical training to the student, and the disciple would accompany the guru to formal performances. In modern times, professional schools train students of Kathakali, with some such as those in Trivandrum Margi school emphasizing a single teacher for various courses, while others such as the Kerala Kalamandalam school wherein students learn subjects from different teachers. Kathakali schools are now found all over India, as well as in parts of the Western Europe and the United States.

A typical Kathakali training center auditions for students, examining health and physical fitness necessary for the aerobic and active stage performance, the body flexibility, sense of rhythm and an interview to gauge how sincere the student is in performance arts. A typical course work in Kathakali emphasizes physical conditioning and daily exercises, yoga and body massage to tone the muscles and sculpt the growing body, along with studies and dance practice. Per ancient Indian tradition, young students continue to start their year by giving symbolic gifts to the guru , such as a few coins with betel leaves, while the teacher gives the student a loin cloth, a welcome and blessings.

Kathakali is still hugely male-dominated but, since the 1970s, females too have made entry into the art form on a recognisable scale. The central Kerala temple town of Tripunithura has, in fact, a ladies troupe (with members belonging to several part of the state) that performs Kathakali, by and large in Travancore .


Main article: Awards for Kathakali artistes

* Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardees - Kathakali (1956–2005) * Nambeesan Smaraka Awards — For artistic performances related kathakali (1992-2008) * International Centre for Kathakali Award


_ The Japanese performance art Noh _ is similar in many ways to Kathakali, and deploys numerous masks (above) and costumes. _ Peking opera _ of China (right) too.

The theory and foundations of _Kathakali_ are same as other major classical Indian dances, traceable to Sanskrit texts such as the _ Natya Shastra _, but the expression style in each is very different and distinctive. _Kathakali_ is different from a similar-sounding _ Kathak _, though both are Indian classical dance traditions of "story play" wherein the stories have been traditionally derived from the Hindu epics and the Puranas. Kathak is an ancient performance art that emerged in North India, with roots in traveling bards retelling mythical and spiritual stories through dance-acting. Kathak traditionally has included female actor-dancers, unlike Kathakali which has traditionally been performed by an all male troupe. Kathak deploys much simpler costumes, makeup and no face masks. Both dance forms employ choreography, face and hand gestures traceable to the _Natya Shastra_, but _Kathak_ generally moves around a straight leg and torso movements, with no martial art leaps and jumps like Kathakali. Kathak uses the stage space more, and does not typically include separate vocalists. Both deploy a host of similar traditional Indian musical instruments.

Kathakali-style, costume rich, musical drama are found in other cultures. For example, the Japanese _ Noh _ (能) integrates masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized gestures while the costumes communicate the nature of the characters in a _Noh_ performance, as in Kathakali. In both, costumed men have traditionally performed all the roles including those of women in the play. The training regimen and initiation of the dance-actors in both cultures have many similarities.

Kabuki , another Japanese art form, has similarities to Kathakali. Jīngjù , a Chinese art of dance-acting (_zuo_), like Kathakali presents artists with elaborate masks, costumes and colorfully painted faces.


* Bharata Natyam * Kathak * Mohiniyattam


* ^ The gender exclusivity is one of the significant differences between Kathakali and other classical Indian dances which either included or favored female actor-dancers. * ^ Modern performances with microphone and speakers sometimes position the vocalists in the back.


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