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10 Interesting facts about Kathakali Dance in KERALA

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India is a land of traditional dance forms, art forms, weaving techniques, printing techniques and a lot more. Some of these are hundreds of years old. Some of these existed even before there was any proper human civilisation. Each state has it’s own specific tradition, culture, customs, classical dance and art forms. The Kathakali dance form originated in Kerala over 300 years ago.2. It is said that Kathakali dance has evolved from other forms of arts such as Kuttiyattam, Kalaripayattu and Krishnanattam. 

Most of the Indian classical dance forms such as Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak originated from temples and are performed with the main aim of worship. But Kathakali dance originated in courts and theatres. Here are certain interesting facts about Kathakali the traditional dance of Kerala which you must know.

On my visit to Kerela in the year 2016, I got this chance to experience Kathakali dance live performance on stage. It was the fourth day of our trip and we were in Thekkady. In the evening after having a short walk around Thekkady town we reached Mudra Kalari centre.

It was an art centre where performers performed the traditional dance of Kerala Kathakali and also performed traditional martial art of Kerala,  Kalaripayattu.

When we arrived they welcomed us with tilak and made us sit comfortably. It was a two-storied hall. A staged hall was meant for the Kathakali performance and there was another hall with a ring kind of area in the centre. It was meant for the performers of Kalaripayattu. I shall write all about Kalaripayattu on my next post. So stay tuned.

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Here are 10 Interesting facts about

Kathakali-traditional dance from Kerala.

1. Kathakali which is “Katha” that means Story or tale and “Kali” that means performing art or dance form. The main theme of Kathakali is mythological stories and various popular scenes taken from epics like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavat Purana, other holy scriptures, etc.

Like,any other performing art forms Kathakali too has evolved with time. In the present times, the themes of Kathakali dance has incorporated other themes like those from Shakespearean Dramas.

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2. Like all other dance forms of Indian Classical dance, Kathakali is too expressed with grand and excellent hand gestures and great facial expressions especially the eyes. They make good use of the whole stage to perform the dance. The “Abhinaya” or expression part of the dance is of foremost importance along with dance and the song.

3. The Kathakali dance is performed by males and developed in courts and theatres of Hindu localities. Even the female characters are performed by the male dancers.

4. The costumes worn by the dancers are very elaborate and the dance movements are quite similar in style and nature of the various forms of martial arts prevalent in Kerela.

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5. Like any other performing art forms, Kathakali too has evolved with time. In the present times, the themes of Kathakali dance has drifted from traditional scenes based on ancient epics and holy scriptures. These days it’s quite common to see Kathakali dancers articulating scenes from various popular Shakespearean dramas.

6. The costume and make-up or Vesham used by the dancers are in vivid colours and looks magnificent when they perform on the stage. Each colour has a distinct significance. The make-up is done on the basis of acts they perform that categorises them as Gods, goddesses, demons, animals, etc.

All the colours are made from the vegetable extract and mixed with rice paste. The make-up is quite lengthy procedures and begins a few hours prior to the performance. They say the make-up is of seven types-

  • Pascha Vesham, the green colour with bright red coloured lips portrays the lead character like Sri Ram or Arjuna.
  • Tati or red colour for evil characters like Ravana, Hiranyakashyapu, etc.
  • Kathi Vesham is used for the villainous character like Ravana
  • Vella Thadi Vesham which is the Beard is used to portray divine characters
  • Teppo make-up is used for superhuman characters like Hanuman, Jatayu.
  • Kari Vesham, the black colour for female evil characters, hunters, forest dwellers, etc.
  • Manukau Vesham using orange, yellow for female characters and saints.

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For more added information you can read in Details about the Kathakali Dance form HERE.

7. All these characters are based on the three Gunas that existed in the ancient age. These three Gunas evil, good and active are still existent in the present times and can be found in each human being.

These Gunas are sattva(goodness), rajas(egoistic) and tamas (darkness). To a great extent, the make-up highlights each of these characters and the various gunas that they represent on the stage.

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8. In a Kathakali dance performance, dancing and acting go hand-in-hand. The mudras or signs made by using hands, the various facial expressions and the eye movement express the emotions and feelings that each character wants to convey. The dancers also use weapons while perfoeming as you can see in the pictures.

9. In the background the orchestra that includes a vocalist and musical instruments that keeps on playing and sets the rhythm on which the entire scene performed on the stage. I was fascinated by the way the dancers moved their eye-brows on while dancing and at times I do try this at home only to understand why it took them a lot of years to master the Kathakali dance.

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10. There are 24 main mudras and nine facial expressions called Navarasas. They say the nine Navarasas expresses the nine emotions or Bhabas like love, laughter, anger, sadness, enthusiasm, fear, disgust, curiosity and peace.

The way they express these emotions on stage can be easily comprehended even though you may not know the language with which they are singing the song. These expressions also help in understanding the main plot that is being performed on stage.

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These are some of the interesting facts about Kathakali Dance form in Kerala. When you visit Kerala make sure to enjoy such a performance. There are many centres across the state for tourists to experience the beautiful culture and traditions of the state.

If You are Looking for More Travel Inspirations from Kerala, Check out these posts !!

My experience of staying in a houseboat in Kerela

My Ultimate Travel Itinerary to God’s Own Country, Kerala- Part -I

My Ultimate Travel Itinerary to God’s Own Country, Kerala- Part -II

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