Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Kathakali originated from a precursor dance-drama form called Ramanattam and owes it share of techniques also to Krishnanattam. The word "attam" means enactment. In short, these two forerunning forms to Kathakali dealt with presentation of the stories of Hindu mythology heroes Rama and Krishna -- and it's still largely the case. It was Kottarakara Thampuran (1625-1685) (ruler of the south Kerala province of Kottarakara) who composed several plays on the Ramayana, which led to the evolution of Kathakali. Today, Ramanattam is extinct, but its storyplays continue to be a part of Kathakali.

Kathakali also shares a lot of similarities with Krishnanattam, Koodiyattam (a classical Sanskrit drama existing in Kerala) and Ashtapadiyattam (an adaptation of 12th-century musical called Gitagovindam). It also incorporates several other elements from traditional and ritualistic art forms like Mudiyettu, Thiyyattu, Theyyam and Padayani besides a minor share of folk arts like Porattunatakam. All along, the martial art of Kalarippayattu has influenced the body language of Kathakali. The use of Malayalam, the local language (albeit as a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam, called Manipravalam), has also helped the literature of Kathakali sound more transparent for the average audience. The characters with painted faces and elaborate costumes besides advanced choreography (primarily developed Kaplingad Narayanan Namboodiri - 1739-1789) to re-enact stories -- largely from the Hindu epics. Kathakali has traditionally been performed in temples and palaces, but over the past century it also finds venues in post-harvest paddy fields and, since the last few decades, in proscenium stages of public halls/auditoria and even in pagentry shows (in bits) of late.

Overall, what initially began as a rustic, uncivilised form gradually gained exquisite looks, sophisticated movements and complementary audio support to graduate itself as one of the world's most advanced dance-dramas today.

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