Dancing to the Tale

The word Kathakali is a combination of two words – katha, meaning story, and kali, meaning performance. So it means a story which is performed. It is one of the classical dance forms of India, and comes from the State of Kerala.

Kathakali is different from the other classical dances in several ways. More elaborate make-up and costumes are used, including headgear and face masks. Dancers rely a lot on miming and hand and finger movements called mudras to convey emotions, though footwork is also important. The story is recited by voice artistes, who modulate their tones to suit the character. The chenda and maddalam, both types of drums, a bell metal gong and cymbals are the main musical instruments. Traditionally, Kathakali was performed only by men.

Earlier dance forms of Kerala, like Krishnattam and even martial art forms like Kalaripayattu, have influenced Kathakali.

In Kathakali, good characters like Rama always have their faces painted green. Evil characters like Ravana have red-painted faces, while black is for demonesses. Saffron or minuku is used for women, and yellow for sages.
All the dancers, representing both men and women characters, wear loose jackets and long skirts and are padded around their waists. It takes several hours to get a Kathakali dancer costumed and made-up.

In the olden days, Kathakali performances would start at dusk and go on till dawn, with short breaks in between. Sometimes, the story would be performed over several nights. Nowadays, shorter versions are being staged. And women too now perform this classical dance. The themes are also not only from Hindu mythology any longer. Even Shakespeare’s stories are performed.

Kerala Kalamandalam is one of the most famous institutions which train Kathakali dancers. Kalamandalam Gopi, Kottakkal Sivaraman and Kalamandalam Ramankutty are some famous performers.

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