Kerala is known the world over by its own
performing art form, the Kathakali. "Katha" means story
and "Kali" stands for dance.
It is a beautiful mix of dance, drama and
music that the connoisseurs of art world qualified as 'a total art
form of immense sophistication and power'.This is a form of dance
formerly confined only to the festival stages in temples.
It is a mime show, dancing with mudras (formulated hand gestures
conveying the text of lyrics) and specialised dancing steps following
the song rendered in the background by a singer to the accompaniment
of Chenda, Maddalam (country drums), Chenkila and Elathalam (Cymbals).
The face painted green and made up with a spot of sacred sandal
paste on the brow, eye-lined with mascara, lip toned by cherry and
white chin mask, the dancer dons a colourful costume and rich and
impressive crown and jewellery.
A traditional pedestal Nilavilakku (oil
lamp) with sixty wicks on both sides lit together lights the dancing
floor. There are four types of make up. Pachcha (green) face painted
green and adorning sober and beautiful attires denoting the godly
or virtuous character.
Thadi (beard); divided into Chuvanna Thadi (red beard) depicting
aggressive and demoniac characters, Karutha Thadi (black beard)
depicting aborigines, cavemen and foresters and Vella Thadi (white
beard) representing Rishis, Saints, Preceptors and other intellectuals.
Kari (carbon black) representing mean characters and Minukku (refined)
presenting women and Brahmins.
There is a school of thought which believes
that Ramanattam could be the ancestor of Kathakali, for very many
similarities in the presentations, costumes, acting and background
music could be cited in both. The stage decor, costumes, make up,
and mudras as seen today are purported to be improvements bestowed
gradually to this art form by two veteran Namboothiris, Kalladikkodan
and Kaplingadan Manas.
Centuries down, there developed a branch
of literature known as "Kathakali literature" and compositions
of poet laureates like Kottayath thampuran, Unnayi Warrier, Koyithampuran,
Vayaskara Mooss are milestones in the history of Kathakali.
Aattakkadhakal (stories for dance), the
poetic compositions of legendary stories to special metric scale,
set to music in classical Carnatic style are danced out.