Saturday, 11 March 2017

Kathakali : Traditional Dance-drama of Kerala

Bhoomi at Malayalam Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Enactment of Kauravas inviting Pandavas for a game of dice (from epic - Mahabharata)

Kathakali is a stylised classical Indian dance-drama that originated in the Indian state of Kerala. The story is enacted purely by the movements of the hands (called mudras or hand gestures), by facial expressions (rasas) and bodily movements. The expressions are derived from Natyashastra. Unlike other classical dances of Inida, which developed in courts and theatres, Kathakali devloped in Hindu temples and monastic schools.

Traditionally, they generally start at dusk and go throughout the night and for lighting, large lamp called Kali Vilakku is placed at the front end of the stage. Now the oil lamps have no utility value, but they retain the sanctity of the centuries-old performing art.

The term Kathakali is derived from Katha which means "story, or a conversation, or a traditional tale", and Kali (from Kala) which means "performance and art".

The quintessential art form Kathakali has a long tradition but it's roots are still unclear. The fully developed style of Kathakali originated around the 17th century, but its roots are in temple and folk arts such as Kutiyattam and religious drama of southwestern Indian peninsula, which are traceable to at least the 1st millennium CE.

It is popularly believed that kathakali emerged from 'Krishnanattam', the dance drama on the life and activities of Lord Krishna. Once, the Raja of Kottarakkara, who was attracted to Krishnanattam; requested the Zamorin of Calicut for the loan of a troupe of performers. Due to the political rivalry between the two, Zamorin did not allow this. So, Kottarakkara Thampuran created another art form called Ramanattam, which later transformed into Aattakatha. Attakatha was presented to the world with the title 'Kathakali'.

Mahakavi Vallathol Narayan Menon is credited for revitalising the art of Kathakali in modern Kerala. He was great nationalist poet and also founder of Kerala Kalamandalam. He stimulated the world's interest in the art of Kathakali during his tours abroad between 1950 and 1953.

Stories / Themes
The themes of this awe-inspiring art are taken from India's rich and colourful mythology. Themes are mainly about the fight between good and evil.

Kathakali is structured around plays called Attakatha (literally, "enacted story"), written in Sanskritised Malayalam. They typically deal with the Mahabarat, the Ramayana and the ancient scriptures known as the Puranas.
Now a days, the Kathakali artists of India have been producing new plays based on not only traditional Hindu mythologies, but Western stories and plays such as those by Shakespeare and from Christianity.

Kathakali is usually performed only by men. Female characters are portrayed by men dressed
By Shagil Kannur (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
in women's costume. However, in recent years, women have started to become Kathakali dancers.

Make-ups or veshams is the basis of character definitions in Kathakali. Veshams can be classified into five basic sets, based on the characteristics, namely Pacha (green), Kathi (knife), Kari (black), Thaadi (beard), and Minukku (radiant).
-Pacha vesham with its predominant green colour is used to portray noble male characters like kings and divine beings.
-Kathi vesham represents arrogant and evil but have a streak of valour in them.
-Thaadi veshams are again divided into three class:
    - Chuvanna thadi (red beard) - The red beard represents vicious and excessively evil characters as in the case of the character Bali - the king of monkeys.
    - Vella thadi (white beard) - The white beard represents a higher type of being and is seen mainly in the character of Hanuman, the monkey god.
    - Karutha thadi (black beard) - The black beards are the character types in which black predominates in make-up and costume. These are the primitive beings - the wild hunters and forest dwellers.

-Kari vesham represents demonic characters, portraying the most gruesome figures.
-Minukku vesham symbolizes gentleness and high spiritual qualities (like saints).

Apart from these five main classes there are eighteen special characters like Jatayu, Hamsam and Karkotaka whose make-up cannot be fitted into any particular category.

Kathakali make up is an elaborate process lasting for 3 hours. It helps in giving a super human look to the actors.
The basic make up for the heroes is colouring the cheeks and jaw bone light green and elongating the eyes. The forehead is colored white. The jawbone is highlighted by pasting cut-outs made of paper. Headgear known as mudis, carved from wood, are also worn. The good characters wear purple blue or yellow jackets and the villains wear red jackets. The lower half of the costume is common to all Kathakali dancers and they wear heavily pleated skirts.

Colours used
The makeup is very elaborate.  It is so elaborate that it is more like a mask than makeup in the usual sense.  The materials that comprise the makeup is all locally available.

All the colours used in the make-up are obtained from natural substances and herbs. For example, the red and yellow colours are made by powdering stones like Chaayilyam and Manayola respectively. A mixture of lime and rice flour serves for white. The green colour is produced by mixing Manayola and Neelam (blue). Coconut oil is used as the base for mixing these stone powders. Another stone, Chenchilyam is powdered and applied in order to protect the skin from burns. Kanmashi or Kajal (the black substance) is prepared by burning gingelly oil. Kumkumam or saffron is also used for the make-up. However, now-a-days many of these colour mixing processes have been replaced by easily available material like paper pulp etc.

The colours are not merely decoration, but are also a means of portraying characters. According to Sastras color symbolism has got significance. They reflect certain categories of emotions and gunas(attributes).
    Green represents Sattivika nature
    Red represents Rajasic nature
    Black represents Tamasic nature
    Yellow represents Sattivika and Rajasic nature
    Green goes with godliness,white with spirituality,red with ambition and violence,yellow with passivity,and black with evil.

Navarasam (Facial Expressions)
A highly stylized technique in the invocation of bhava (emotion) has been developed in Kathakali. Emotions and mood is expressed through "facial and eye" movements. This is called Rasaabhinaya. Indian dramatic theory explains 9 kinds of basic expressions (Navarasam).

These nine Navarasas express nine Bhava (emotions) in Kathakali as follows:
1. Sringara expresses Rati (love, pleasure, delight)
2. Hasya expresses Hasa (comic, laugh, mocking)
3. Karuna expresses Shoka (pathetic, sad)
4. Raudra expresses Krodha (anger, fury)
5. Vira expresses Utsaha (vigor, enthusiasm, heroic)
6. Bhayanaka expresses Bhaya (fear, concern, worry)
7. Bibhatsa expresses Jugupsa (disgust, repulsive)
8. Adbhuta expresses Vismaya (wondrous, marvel, curious)
9. Shanta expresses Sama (peace, tranquility)

Mudras (Hand Gestures)
The communication among the characters and to the audience, is through an intricate language of hand gestures (Mudras), used in combination with facial expression and body movements. Kathakali follows the language of Mudras, as described in "Hasthalakshana Deepika". Kathakali follows the Hasthalakshana Deepika most closely, unlike other classical dances of India. There are 24 main mudras, and numerous more minor ones in Kathakali.

By Joseph Lazer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 in], via Wikimedia Commons

Songs and musical instruments
The play is in the form of verses that are metered and lyrical, sung by vocalists whose voice has been trained to various melodies (raga), music and synchronized with the dance-acting on the stage. For example, anger is expressed by the use of sharp high voice and pleading is expressed by the use of a tired tone for the verse.

Music is central to a Kathakali performance. It sets the mood and triggers emotions resonant with the nature of the scene. Major instruments used are :
Manjira (Thalam) - A pair of clash cymbals, which make high-pitched percussion sounds.
Maddalam - Barrel shaped, a traditional Kerala percussion instrument.
chenda - Cylindrical drum played with curved sticks.
Idakka - Hourglass shaped drum with muted and melodious notes played when female characters perform.

Red eyes in Kathakali
The facial makeup of Kathakali is so colorful and a white eye doesn't look good. The red eye adds an unearthly ambience to the face. Eye movements along with hand and body movements are unavoidable in Kathakali as it completes the beauty and elegance of Natya and Nritha.

To get red eyes dancers also often place a Chundappoo (Chunda Flower) seed under their lower eyelid before the performance. Chunda Flower (Scientific Name : Solanum surattense / Solanum xanthocarpum) is also called Punyaha Chunda as the flower is used for preparing Punyaham (Holy Water) in Kerala temples and household deities. This plant comes under the category of egg plant (Brinjal). Which we call Chundappoo seed, is not actually a seed and is prepared by removing the ovaries at the base of the flowers of this plant. The procedure used for preparing these seeds involves the rubbing of a bunch of these in your palm until they become black (starting from a white color) and nearly dehydrated. They often last long enough for a season (of around four months) in this condition.

Once the facial makeup is over, just before starting the body costume, the performer need to put the flower seed in the eyes. He places his eyeballs up, and gently put the flower seed in lower eyelid. Then he gently pinches the lower eyelid and drag forward. The flower seed goes inside and stays there. The performer closes the eyes and roll his eyeballs. When he/she opens his eyes, the eyes turns red in colour.

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