“KATHAKALI”-A CLASSICAL INDIAN DANCE FORM: Four unique features

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Kathakali Dance, Kerala, India

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Kathakali is considered to be one among the seven officially recognized (by the Ministry of Culture and The Sangeet Natak Academy,India) classical Indian dance forms. Originating from the state of Kerala located in south of India this dance form is said to have been developed around the 17th century. Now, this classical Indian dance style similar to some of the others such as Bharatanatayam, Kathak etc comprise of a few unique features. So the four unique features that Kathakali as a style of traditional dancing possesses.

UNIQUE FEATURE # 1: CLOSE ASSOCIATION OF KATHAKALI, “KOODIYATTAM AND KRISHNANATTAM”, AND OTHER DANCE FORMS

Kathakali was developed using many features seen in other dance forms found in the state of Kerala such as ‘Koodiyattam and Krishnanattam’ The basic similarities between the ‘Kathakali, Koodiyattam, and Krishnanattam’ basically lie in the use of elaborate costumes that includes the use of masks, and the use of acting techniques that involves the use of the eyes and facial expressions. However, there also exists a major difference between these dance forms. The difference is that, while kathakali involves the use of a separate vocalist, the Koodiyattam and Krishnanattam requires the dancer to sing along while performing.  In addition, this classical Indian dance also uses elements from other ritual based performing art forms such as Mudiyetty, Teyyam, and Padayani, and is also said to be extremely similar to “Kabuki”, a popular Japanese theatrical dance style. Furthermore, it is also said that Kathakali has been heavily influenced from a form of martial art (originating from Kerala) known as ‘Kalarippayattu’.

UNIQUE FEATURE # 2:THE COSTUMES USED IN KATHAKALI

Extremely elaborate is the best way to describe the costumes worn by an artist performing kathakali. Apart from the attire and headgear the main feature of the costume includes the use of an extremely specific makeup code. This code comprises of seven different colours used to represent a few mythological characters being portrayed by the dancer during a performance. The major colours used in the makeup code are as follows:

  1. Pacca: e. green colour is basically used to represent “divine” characters such as Krishna, Vishnu, Rama, Shiva, Arjuna etc.
  2. Tati: e. red colour is essentially used to represent pure evil characters such as Ravana, Dushasana etc.
  3. Kari: e. black colour is used to represent characters such as forest dwellers, hunters etc.
  4. Kathi: also known as “Knife Vesham” is a green coloured makeup that also comprises of red streaks applied on the cheeks. It is used to represent a character such as Ravana who belongs to a high caste, and yet possesses a pure evil personality.
  5. Minukka: e. warm yellow, orange/saffron colour which represent pious mythological female characters that include Sita, Draupadi, and Mohini.
  6. Teppu: e. a bird style makeup that is used to represent special mythological characters such as Garuda, Jatayu, and Hamsa.
  7. Payuppu: e. orange-red colour basically used to represent characters such as Balarama, Brahma, Surya, and Shiva.

In addition, decorative face masks and head gear are used in accordance to the nature of the character being represented by the dancer.

UNIQUE FEATURE # 3:  PROMINENT USE OF ‘ACTING TECHNIQUES’

Yet another unique feature about the “Kathakali” that is an absolute stand out is the use of acting technique which involves mainly the use of eyes and facial expressions (Navarasas). In addition, it also requires the use of a sign language (i.e. basically use of hands) known as “mudras”. Furthermore, this dance style comprises of about “24 mudras” and “9 navarasas”. The navarasas essentially represent “9 human emotions”, and they are as follows:

  1. Sringara: Also known as “Rati”. A navarasa used basically to represent emotions such as love, pleasure, and delight.
  2. Hasya: Also known as “Hasa”. A navarasa that expresses laughter, comedy etc.
  3. Karuna: Also known as “Shoka”. A navarasa that expresses sadness.
  4. Raudra: Also known as “Krodha”. A navarasa that expresses anger/fury.
  5. Vira: Also known as “Utsaha”. A navarasa that expresses enthusiasm and heroism.
  6. Bhayanaka: Also known as “Bhaya”. A navarasa that expresses fear, concern, or worry.
  7. Bibhatsa: Also known as “Jugupsa”. A navarasa that expresses repulsiveness.
  8. Adbhuta: Also known as “Vismaya”. A navarasa that expresses curiosity.
  9. Shanta: Also known as “Sama”. A navarasa that expresses peace/tranquillity.

UNIQUE FEATURE # 4: PROCESS INVOLVED IN ACQUIRING ADMISSION IN A ‘KATHAKALI TRAINING CENTRE’

In terms of acquiring admission in a “Kathakali” training centre/school, for those genuinely interested, an extremely intriguing process is used, and includes the following two stages

  1. Health and fitness examination: Held for an interested candidate, who undergoes a vigorous physical test, and is basically tested for body flexibility and sense of rhythm.
  2. A personal interview: Conducted so as to enable the training centre to gauge the “sincerity and passion” that the interested candidate possesses with regards to learning this rather complicated dance style.

A candidate after successfully acquiring admission into a training centre/school is then placed under the guidance of a teacher i.e. a guru.  It is then by living along with this guru and his family that the candidate begins to learn the basic rudiments of Kathakali. In addition, following the ancient Indian tradition of “Gurukula” (i.e. a symbiotic teacher-student relationship) the selected candidate before the commencement of training needs to present a gift in the form few coins with betel leaves to the guru. In response, the guru too needs to reciprocate the gesture of the student by gifting him a loin cloth.

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