Literally meaning "Story Play", Kathakali (Katha-story, Kali-Play). History of Kathakali in Kerala is around 300 years old. Today, only 30 plays out of the original 100 plays are being played. Most of the plays explicate the Hindu epics - Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas. Kerala owes its transnational fame to this classical dance form, which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime.
Kathakali Kerala is usually presented in the Temple precincts after dusk. Singers vocalize the script while the players act out the pay with their gestures (mudras and mughabhinaya). Kathakali is heralded by the Kelikottu (the drums) in accompaniment of the Chengila (the gong). The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music, drama and dance are unparalleled in any other art form. Kathakali performers require hours of preparation.
The stories for attakatham (revise text for a Kathakali price) are selected from epics and mythologies and are written in a highly samskritised verse form in Malayalam. It had it's origin in the courts of the kings of Kerala. It is considered to be a synthetic art form combining in itself, the rudiments of it's earlier forms like 'Krishnanathan 'and 'Ramanattam' with a highly classical dance. The actor does not speak, but expresses himself through highly complicated and scientifically ordained murdias and steps, closely following the text being sung from the background of the stage .
Kathakali Orchestra includes two drums - chenda, maddalam, cymbals and the ela taalam. Two singers provide the vocal accompaniment of Kathankali songs and musics. The style of singing of Kathakali songs particular to Kathakali is called Sopaanam. The orchestra of a Kathakali troupe is unique and provides not only the background to the dancing, but also serves as a highly expressive special effects team. In the traditional village ambiance, the percussionists also provide publicity for the event by playing outside the venue for some hours before the start of the show.
Kathakali performances traditionally begin just after sunset and continuous all night through downs. As the Kathakali dancer does not speak any Kathakali padam, his vocabulary Kathakali padangal consists of only 'hustamudras' (stylised hand gestures) and facial gesture. Together with the exceptional quality of the spectacle and the intricate 'athinaya'system and the rectorical text with druns, a Kathakali dancer transports the spectator to an out of this world experience. It takes years for a novice to gradute into an actor. It takes more than seven years of full time practice under a meticulious teacher. Videos of Kathakali in malayalam are available in youtube. You can lear dannce of Kathakali through these videos.
Kathakali Costume is elaborate with the face painted up. Great importance is laid on the Vesham (make-up), which are of five types - Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Kari and Minukku. Each Vesham denotes the type of role. Pacha (Green)- portrays noble protagonists
Kathi (Knife)- portrays villainous characters.
Thadi (Beard)- There are three types of bearded or Thadi Veshams / Costumes."Vella Thadi" or White beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman. "Chuvanna Thadi" or Red beard is for evil characters. "Karutha Thadi" or Black beard for the hunter.
Kari (Black) - Kari Vesham is used for lady-demons (witches in Indian epic)
Minukku (Prettying Up)- The "Minukku Vesham" is used for female characters and sages.
The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partly due to its Costumes part of which includes the kireetam (headgear), the kanchukam (the over sized jackets), and a long skirt worn over a thick padding of cushions. The identity of the actor is completely mutilated to create a super human being of larger-than-life proportion.
For more details:- Kathakali Pictures