Kathakali is one of the many famous dance forms of India, which originated in temples of Kerala. As Kathakali was patronized by the kings, it developed in their courts and hence is different in structure and details from the other temple developed Indian classical dance forms. The more evolved form of Kathakali which is practiced today developed in the 17th century.
Kathakali is primarily a combination of dance with storytelling, earlier themes of performances were mostly based on religious or spiritual narrations but nowadays its scope has widened and it involves dramatizing Shakespeare’s dramas and stories from other religions as well.
Many believe that Kathakali draws its roots from other ancient Indian performance arts such as Kudiattam and Krishnattam, which is primarily based on the life of Lord Krishna. As the dance form evolved from the Hindu religion, it is performed in dedication to Lord Shiva or Lord Krishna.
The performances are done in specially designed theaters, Kuttampalam, which are constructed as mentioned in Natya Sharsta by Bharat Munni, some of these can accommodate about 500 people. But many performances also take place in open grounds or fields where more people could be accommodated.
The whole body of Kathakali performance is based on attakatha which means enacted stories. The scripts are written in Sanskritized Malayalam distinguishing between actions and dialogues, which help the performer in setting the tone. The emotions, hand movements, and expressions of the dancers play a vital role in the performance.
Earlier Kathakali performances used to be very long lasting from a day or two to weeks but now due to time constraint, they have become shorter. The performances have a strong impact on the audiences as they showcase emotions ranging from sorrow to extreme anger to happiness to tension in the most articulate manner.
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For very long, Kathakali was only performed by male dancers who use to play both male and female roles but now more women are welcomed in the tradition. During the performance, the stage is occupied by the dancers and musicians and vocalists perform at the background of the stage. Three types of drums are used for the performance: manddalam, centa and idakka.
As compared to other classical dance forms of India Kathakali has most elaborate makeup and dresses, it takes many hours of a performer to get ready, which includes face masks, headdress, painting of faces and much more.
The makeup is done in an accepted code which helps the audience in identifying the God, Goddess, demons, saints etc.
Training for Kathakali is a very rigorous one as it takes a lot of time in mastering different facial expressions which are the most important aspect of a performance. Students of Kathakali perform various exercises for face, lips, eyes, cheeks and neck for a long time before they can master the art.
Kathakali shares a resemblance with Japanese performance art of Noh which also includes usage of different masks, colourful makeup, and costumes. Another Japanese art Kabuki and Chinese art Jiangsu also share similarities with Kathakali.
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