Similar to other Indian classical dance arts, the story in ‘Kathakali’ is also communicated to audience through excellent footwork and impressive gestures of face and hands complimented with music and vocal performance.However it can be distinguished from the others through the intricate and vivid make-up, unique face masks and costumes worn by dancers as also from their style and movements that reflect the age-old martial arts and athletic conventions prevalent in Kerala and surrounding regions.
Zarrilli states that the 16th and 17th centuries witnessed development of Kathakali as a unique form of classical dance in the coastal belt of southern India which have Malayalam speaking populace.Image Credit: Zarrilli also opines that presumably the dance-drama art form called ‘Krishnanattam’ that illustrates legends from the life of Lord Krishna is a precursor of ‘Kathakali’.‘Krishnanattam’ dance form developed under the auspices of the Zamorin ruler of Calicut, Sri Manavedan Raja ((1585-1658 AD).History & Evolution Author Phillip Zarrilli mentions that the basic components and distinct features of this form of classical dance can be traced back to ancient Sanskrit Hindu text called ‘Natya Shastra’, a text on the performing arts written by the sage Bharata Muni, an Indian theatrologist and musicologist.Although the full version of the text is conjectured to be completed between 200 BCE to 200 CE, such time span also hover around 500 BCE to 500 CE.Traditionally the themes of ‘Kathakali’ were based on religious sagas, legends, mythologies, folklores and spiritual concepts taken from the ‘Puranas’ and the Hindu epics.
Apart from such themes, the modern day ‘Kathalaki’ troupes of India have also adapted themes based on legends on Christianity as also Western plays and stories of renowned authors like William Shakespeare.
Various chapters of this text consist of thousands of verses.
Dance is categorised in two specific forms in ‘Natya Shastra’ - ‘nrita’ and nritya’.
This age-old performance art traditionally starts at dusk and performed through dawn with breaks and interludes and sometimes for several nights starting at dusk.
Costumes ‘Kathakali’ incorporates the most intricate make-up code, costume, face masks, head dress and brightly painted faces among all Indian classical dance forms.
Repertoire Kathakali is typically structured around ‘Attakatha’ meaning the story of attam or dance.