Kathakali Facts!- Part 1 (Post No.11,812)


Post No. 11,812

Date uploaded in London – –  16 MARCH 2023                  

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I was reading an old book on the Kathakali dance form which is staged until this day in Kerala. It is a very short book but with full of facts. Here is a summary.

1.      Kathakali is a dance drama form peculiar to Kerala. Katha+ kali means Story Play.

2.      Kathakali is an improvement on Krishnattam,  kind of dance drama based on Jayadeva’s Ashtapathi. It came into being around 1650 CE.

3.      Raja Veera Kerala Varma of Kottarkkara requested the Zomorin of Calicut (Zamorin= Hindu king) to send the troupe of Krishnattam players for a Roal Wedding. But he refused to send a troupe saying that there were no scholrs in the south who are capable of appreciating such a scholarly artistic  performance. Disappointed king, adopted simpler costumes and started Ramanattam based on Ramayana. it became Kathakali in course of time.

4.      Ramanattm was first performed in front of the Ganapathi temple of Kottarakkara. This is followed by all kathakali artistes. Their irst performance is performed in front of the temple

5.      This is the modern history. But there is information to show that this form of dance is at least 1000 year old. Ammu raja of Bali Islands (now Indonesia) took some people from Travancore and they taught the islanders a dance where gestures are predominant. Later it spread to Java island.

6.      The Raja of the principality of Kottarkkara (1575- 1650) was the first composer and originator of Kathakali. He made 8 plays to show 8 important episodes of Ramayana. Raja of Kottayam (1665-1743) developed this dance based on Bharatham. He participated in one of the performances without anyone’s knowledge. When his troupe presented a show in front of Zamorin/Hindu King of Calicut, the king invited all actors and presented them gifts, he was surprised that 50 year old Kottayam Raja was one of the actors.

7.      Hasta Mudras (hand poses) are very important in this type of dance. The system of Finger Poses is based on Bharata Natya Sastra. Hasta Lakshana Deepika and Abhinaya Darpana are two more important works on Mudras

8.      Kathakali language is Manipravala- a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam. The dialogues are in Malayalam and intermediate verses  in Sanskrit.

9.      The verse or sloka introduce the actors on the stage. The verses , as a rule, close with the words, And so they spoke. The actors are behind the 5X4 feet long silk curtain.  The curtain holders will raise  or lower the curtain (Thirassila) according to the tempo of the dance.

10. Nowadays old plays are not used much. New plays are written. It is a difficult art. One has to undergo a rigorous training for 12 years to get a minor role on stage. They do it in old Guru kula way.

11. Ten to fifteen years of stage experience makes an actor competent to play major roles.

12. There are nine different movements or actions of the head, six movements each of the eye brows, nose, cheeks and lips , seven movements of the chin and nine movements of the neck, eleven glances of the eyes, each varying in meaning.

13. The actors are tabooed from speaking while on the stage. The strides, the hand poses, dances and facial gestures are the  effective substitutes for vocal expression

14. The Kathakali dancers are masters in the movements of eyes. The eyes of the Kathakali dancers actually dance. There are nine different movements of eye balls, nine movements of eye lids, and seven movements of eye brows. The reddening of the eyes of the actors lends an ethereal charm and superhuman effect to the pantomime.

15. Rishi Bharatha, author of dance treatise, while describing Nritya , ordains that “the dancer with the throat  should sing; with feet express the tala; with the eyes express the bhava and with the hands express meaning”. This terse definition does justice to Kathakali and demands a four fold talent of the dancer

In the next part let us look at the five distinct types of actors, three distinct varieties, 80 knots in dressing, 30 members in a typical troupe, 9 hour long performance etc.

To be continued………………………….

TAGS- Kathakali, Kerala, Dance , Facts

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