Sunday, May 26, 2024

Kathakali – From God’s Own Country

Written By Aishnee Singh (Grade 8)


From the magnificent Taj Mahal to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, from Bharatnatyam to pop dance, from Ramayana to Harry Potter, all add up to the vast subject of art. Art is akin to a mosaic, where one uses coloured pieces of various hard substances and immaculately places them on a certain surface to create a vivid piece where every little piece plays a vital role. Similar to that, art covers various aspects ranging from dance, drama, music, and poetry to paintings, sketches, architecture, and whatnot! While the list seems incessant, each form of art involves creativity to the fullest, and all this adds up to the glory of art.

In the 17th century, the king of Kottaraka was intrigued by the splendid art of Krishnattam, a form of art where people told tales about Krishna through the use of music and dance. His fascination made him invite the Krishnattam performers to showcase their talent. But the king of Calicut (the place where this art form was born) refused to send his performers. Hence, the king of Kottaraka took up eight stories from the Ramayana, which were then performed in the same style as Krishnattam, but now it was christened Ramanattam. Eventually, numerous stories started to be performed in the same art style; therefore, the dance from God’s Own Country was renamed Kathakali. Katha means story, and Kali means play, making it translate to story-play.

In the whole art form, dancers try to display and evoke deep and clear emotions without speaking. People used this form of art to show their devotion towards gods and goddesses, starting with Lord Krishna, followed by the tales of the Ramayana, and henceforth, it explored many more themes and storylines, and over the years, it has also incorporated martial arts skills. In addition to this, the makeup and pattern applied to the faces of the dancers also symbolise numerous things. Pacha (green): to show the noble; Kathi (knife-shaped drawing): to indicate aggression; Chuvannathadi (red beard): to represent villainous characters; Vellathadi (white-coloured beard): with round gear and a green daub on the nose, Hanuman Ji; Pazhukka (with yellow colour on the face)—to represent noble yet aggressive characters such as Lord Shiva, Agni, etc. Different hues, shapes, and symbols are also used to depict other mythological characters, birds, and other miscellaneous individuals. There are three stages to the application of makeup and dressing up: Teppu—where the actors themselves put on makeup; Chuttikuthu—where the professionals apply makeup; and the last stage is Uduthukettu—where the performers put on the costumes.

Well, all this is just the gist of the ethereal beauty of Kathakali. The performers have to be extremely skilled and confident. Not just this, but to make the task even more complex, the detailed makeup and styling of costumes take four hours to put on and two hours to remove, involving great patience and calmness. At the advent of Kathakali, it was taboo that men were the only ones who could dominate this art, but Mrinalini Sarabhai broke all stereotypes and became the first female Kathakali artist. It had formed an integral part of the dancers in Kerala in the early times. People were greatly attracted to this and put in great efforts to accurately put up this rich and traditional form of art. In the later years, Kathakali lost its predominance, but Vallathol Narayana Menon revived this dance in the 1930s, and it came back to the limelight. To draw a clear conclusion, every aspect of this form of art is valuable, and in order to be portrayed magnificently, performers need to pay attention to every minute detail.

India is a diverse country, and many dance forms from different regions have developed a wide range of folk dances such as Kathak from Uttar Pradesh, Manipuri from Manipur, Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu, and many more like Kuchipudi and Odissi, etc. But Kathakali particularly caught my fancy; the art, makeup, shapes, and actions symbolise more than what they just seem to be. Similarly, in life, we get various opportunities and signs that may seem meaningless in the contemporary scenario but could well turn out to be extremely beneficial in the upcoming time. It inspired me to love my roots and the great culture of my country. It has indeed taught me to be more emotive, expressive, and confident, and to never leave any stone unturned. Except for the implied teachings, it helps one maintain body coordination, flexibility, mental stability, and most importantly, collaboration. However, Kathakali and various other folk dances are losing their importance and, hence, are slowly getting pushed down the path of negligence. Many performers dance in empty halls; therefore, it is high time that we learn to respect and love our traditions and customs and readily promote these art forms as well. To conclude, all art forms have their own significance, but Kathakali is just pulchritudinous!


Featured Image Courtesy – Iris Holidays



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