It is difficult to define Kathakali in a single word or single sentence. It is considered by rasikas all over the world as a highly stylized classical dance-drama. By mid seventeenth century, the King of Kottarakkara composed eight plays from the epic Ramayana and named them as RAMANAATTAM Till today nothing is precisely known about the visual rendering of RAMANAATTAM. Probably the king had been inspired by the then indigenous art-forms of south Kerala and re-created their aesthetics and stage-craft in the visual-grammar and music of this new art form. Years later the King of Kottayam (Kottayath Thampuran) in North Kerala worked on RAMANAATTAM and evolved Kathakali with the practical guidance of great gurus of NATYA and NRITTA. Several folk, ritual and classical arts have exerted a definite influence in the comprehensive development of Kathakali. It is the confluence of acting, dancing and music, vocal and instrumental. From the twenty-four basic hand-gestures the Kathakali actor has developed a language comprising of more than six hundred words. He/she enacts the many different characters in Kathakali using stylized hand- gestures, facial- expressions and body-movements. In five different rhythms and four different tempos, the Kathakali characters unfold the text and the context of a play on stage.

Two vocalists, the principal and the supporting, stand behind the actors and sing the text of the play. The former marks the rhythmic beat on the gong and the latter on a pair of cymbals. Chenda, Maddalam and Edaykka are the percussion- instruments used. Chenda is played with two sticks, Edaykka with one stick and Maddalam with both hands. The vocal- music is in a sense the verbal-acting which the characters in Kathakali render. The instrumental-music is functionally linked to the performance of the actors. Chenda, Maddalam and Edaykka augment the effect of the visual frames in Kathakali. The make-up and costuming of Kathakali is elaborate, intricate and intriguing. It takes three to four hours for an actor to transform into a character in the green-room. Green and red are predominant colors in the Kathakali make-up. The costumes and ornaments used are gorgeous and colorful. There are broad divisions in the make-up and costuming of characters based on their inner-characteristics. Curtain or technically Thiraseela is used on Kathakali stage for the entry and exit of characters and to denote change of scene. Of the noble, wicked and grotesque characters, the last two have ‘curtain-look’. Here the character holds the curtain on both sides, brings it down slowly and shows emotions of sringara (love), veera (majesty) and raudra (anger). There are over two hundred Kathakali plays composed by well-known playwrights. Of them the plays of the King of Kottayam and Unnai Warrier are distinctive in many respects.
This is the sole surviving traditional Sanskrit theater in India. Honored recently by UNESCO as world’s oral and intangible heritage, the one thousand eight hundred year old Sanskrit-theater was included in the curriculum of Kalamandalam in 1965. Late Painkulam Rama Chakyar was the Head of the faculty of Koodiyattam for a long period of time. Till mid- twentieth century this esoteric art-form was restricted to some of the Hindu temples of Kerala. Chakyars, Nambiars and their women, the Nangiars, were traditionally the practitioners of Koodiyattam. These are temple-caste-people who presented the theater in the Koothambalams for the high-caste Brahmins and the kshatriyas. Excerpts from the plays of great playwrights such as Bhasa, Kalidasa, Sakthibhadra, Bodhayana and Kulasekhara form the text of the Kutiyattam plays. For visualization of the plays, the Chakyars have effected many notable changes. Acting-manuals penned by Chakyars over centuries tell us a lot about their amazing creativity in re-interpreting the text of major Sanskrit plays.

Nambiars are conventionally the percussionists in Kutiyattam. They play Mizhavau, the major musical-instrument in Kutiyattam. The Nangiars enact the female-roles in Kutiyattam. Edakka gives excellent sound-support to the evocation of subtle facial-expressions of a Kutiyattam actor. Nangiarkoothu, the female counter-part of Kutiyattam, provides immense scope for acting by female-artists. The life-story of Lord Krishna is extensively enacted in it. Along with detailed and precise execution of body-movements and facial-expressions by actors and actresses, both Kutiyattam and Nangiarkoothu follow powerful theatrical conventions on stage and in the green-room. Famous plays in Kutiyattam are ASCHARAYACHOODAMANI, SUBHDARADHANANJAYAM BHAGAVADAJJUKAM and so on. Make-up and costuming in Kutiyattam are unusually impressive. The actors speak in Sanskrit and actresses in PRAKRIT, a crude form of Sanskrit. Fascinating in Kutiyattam is the make-up and costumes of characters like Hanuman and Jatayu. (Sangeet Natak Akademy, New Delhi, has been giving financial support to Kalamandalam for years to popularize Kutiyattam,) In some of the plays like ‘Dhananjayam’ and ‘Ajjukam’, Vidooshaka, the royal clown, has a dominant role. He is privileged to speak the local dialect, Malayalam too other than Sanskrit and Prakrit. Vidooshaka establishes easy rapport between the Play (characters and contexts too) and the common audience through his humorous anecdotes and ruthless satire.

The Sangeeth Natak Academy, New Delhi, has been gibing financial support to Kalamandalam for years to popularize Kutiyattam. Most recently UNESCO-Japan Funds in Trust provided financial assistance to Kalamandalam for its several projects aimed at the preservation and promotion of Kutiyattam.
There is no precise historical evidence to establish the antiquity of Mohiniyaattam, the classical female dance-tradition of Kerala. Probably it was evolved in the eighteenth century. In the court of king Swathi Thirunal who ruled Travancore (South Kerala) in the 19th century Mohiniyaattam flourished along with Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The post -Swathy period witnessed the downfall of Mohiniyaattam. ‘The dance of the enchantress’ slipped into eroticism to satisfy the epicurean-life of some provincial satraps and feudal lords. Poet Vallathol rescued Mohiniyaattam form total extinction. It was added to the curriculum of Kalamandalam in 1930.

The make-up and dressing of Mohiniyaattam is simple and semi-realistic. The dancer’s face is made up of yellow and pink-paste. She wears sandal-colored jacket and sari. Jasmin flowers adorn her tied-up hair. She decorates her eyes with KAJAL and the lips are reddened. The traditional theme of Mohiniyaattam is devotion to and love of God. Vishnu or Krishna is more often the hero. This dance-form explores all the subtleties of the expression, Sringara, in all the items performed. We feel his invisible presence when the heroine or her friend (Sakhi) portrays him through hand-gestures, soft, undulating and circular body movements. In the slow and medium tempos the dancer finds adequate space for improvisation and suggestive facial-expressions, the invocation of Mohiniyaattam is known as CHOLKETTU. JATHISWARAM, VARNAM, PADAM and THILLANA are other items in a Mohiniyaattam-recital. Varnam is the piece de resistance in Mohiniyaattam.Thillana unfolds to the audience the dancer’s rhythmic virtuosity. Padam focuses on ABHINAYA. Mridangam, Violin and Edaykka lend excellent support to the vocal music and to the visual-rhythm of Mohiniyaattam.
Thullal is the successor of Kathakali. Kunchan Nambiar who lived two centuries ago, wrote the text of Thullal and choreographed it for the stage. All the forty or more Plays of Thullal composed by Kunchan Nambiar are replete with humor, sarcasm and social-criticism, Thullal has three divisions- Seethankan, Ottan and Parayan. The distinction between them lies mostly in the make-up and costumes and to some extent in the metres and the rhythm applied. Thullal often reflects the literary, artistic and cultural life of the medieval Kerala. In Thullal, episodes from the Indian Epics are retold in simple Malayalam poetry. The stylized singing of the lines carries with it the beauty of the dravidian metres. A rasika once called Thullal ‘the poor man’s Kathakali’. Thullal is a solo performance. As a semi-stylized dance-theatre-narrative, Thullal is a more popular entertainment than other temple-arts. The performer establishes powerful communication with the audience through verbal-acting which is interspersed with humor and social references.
  Panchavadyam, an orchestra composed of Thimila, Maddalam, Edakka, Cymbals and Kompu was introduced in Kalamandalam as a course of study only in the late 1960s. It is an ensemble performed during temple-festivals. Panchavadyam provides enough scope for collective and individual performance. In other words, team-work and individual expressions find enough space in it. Starting from a slow-tempo in the captivating Thriputa Tala, it steadily progresses and reaches the crescendo. It is a tower of rhythm created in front of caparisoned Elephants lining up in the temple-yard during the Festivals. The music of Panchavadyam is engrossing especially in the lush-green background of the pastoral-temples. There has been an ever-growing interest among the people to listen to this unique orchestra. Kalamandalam offers eight-year training in Thimila and Maddalam, the two major percussion- instruments of Panchavadyam.
Classical Music (Vocal)
All students of music have to learn the basic lessons in classical music. Seven syllables called saptaswaras form the basic-alphabets of classical music. These swaras sung in different tonal inflexions give rise to different ragas. At least four distinct rhythmic scales are employed in classical music. Music for dance and theater is functional music with a lot of emphasis on moods and voice-modulations.

This is the major percussion used for classical music concerts. In different rhythmic scales, both hands are employed for playing Mridangam. Syllables are many in number. There is mnemonics too. Deft fingering and strokes on four different points on the leather-surface create great melody. For Mohiniyattam, Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, this is used as a major accompaniment.

Like Mohiniyattam, Bharatanatyam, the ancient classical dance of Tamil Nadu and Kuchupudi, the folk turned classical dance of Andhra Pradesh are quite familiar to the malayalee milieu. People here enjoy watching these dance-forms characterized by colorful costumes, relatively fast-tempo-movements, sharp lines and high-density expressions. Kalamandalam is offering training in Bharatanatyam and Kuchupudi to students as subsidiary subjects. These are included in the dance- programs of Kalamandalam held in Kerala and outside.





Kerala Kalamandalam
(Deemed to be University for Art and Culture)
Cheruthuruthy – 679 531 via Thrissur, Kerala, India
Telephone: 91+ 4884 262418, 262562, Fax: 91- 4884 - 262019


Email: info@kalamandalam.org


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