Brief History of Kathakali

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Brief History of Kathakali

Brief History of Kathakali is that it is one of the major forms of classical Indian dance, and It is another “story play” genre of art. Kathakali dance form is one of the oldest theater forms in the world. One distinguished by its elaborately colorful make-up, costumes ( kathakali dress ) and The Kathakali makeup is so heavy that it looks like a mask ( These Kathakali Masks are also Known as Kathakali face and have very important role in kathakali play )wearing actor-dancers. who have traditionally been all males. This art form is primarily developed as a Hindu performance art in the Malayalam-speaking southwestern region of India (Kerala).

Kathakali the kerala traditional dance is highly elegant classical Indian dance-drama. And is recognized for its stunning make-up, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements. This classical dance drama presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion.

It originated in the country’s present day state of Kerala during the 17th century and has developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming.



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Kottarakkara complement Krishnanattam, which had its origin under the Zamorins of Kozhikode. Ignoring the first phase when it was Ramanattam, kathakali had its cradle in Vettathu nadu. Here Vettathu Thampuran, Kottayathu Thampuran and many dedicated artists like Chathu Panicker laid foundations for what is known as Kathakali now. Their efforts were concentrated on the rituals, classical details and scriptural perfection.The kathakali songs or Kathakali Music has some similarity to the larger body of South Indian classical music (Carnatic sangeet): however the instrumentation is decidedly different.  Its local colour is strongly achieved by the use of instruments such as chenda, idakka, and shuddha madalam.A traditional Kathakali performance begins in the evening and continues throughout the night, culminating at the auspicious hour of dawn, when Good finally conquers Evil

Kottayathu Thampuran composed four great works — Kirmeeravadham, Bakavadham, Nivathakavacha Kalakeyavadham and Kalyanasaugandhikam. The major changes in Kathakali happened through The great efforts of Kaplingad Narayanan Nambudiri (1739–1789). He was from the Northern Kerala, but after basic instructions in various faculties of the art in Vettathu Kalari he shifted to Travancore. In the capital and many other centres he found many willing to co-operate with him in bringing about the reformations.



Photo Credit : Jogesh S

This kerala dance form shares a lot of similarities with Krishnanattam, Koodiyattam and Ashtapadiyattam.

  • Koodiyattam (a classical Sanskrit drama existing in Kerala)
  • Ashtapadiyattam (an adaptation of 12th-century musical called Gitagovindam). 

It also incorporates several other elements from traditional and ritualistic art forms. Those artforms are Mudiyettu, Thiyyattu, Theyyam and Padayani besides a minor share of folk dance of kerala like Porattunatakam. All along, the martial art of Kalarippayattu has influenced the body language of this classical art. The use of Malayalam, the local language (albeit as a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam), has also helped the literature of Kathakali sound more transparent for the average audience.

Kathakali Costumes The most distinctive characteristic of Kathakali is its dance costume. In Kathakali the makeup is very intricate and the costumes are very large and heavy. There are several kinds of Kathakali costumes namely, Sathwika (the hero), Kathi (the villain), Minukku (females), and Thatti. Each character in Kathakali dance is immediately recognizable by characteristic makeup and costume. 

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