‘Kathakali’ involves a strenuous effort behind the screens where artists have to undergone severe physical changes through colorful make – ups and enormous facial expressions as well as highly developed language of gestures. That is why ‘Kathakali’ has ran into the list of classical art forms of India easily.
Often regarded as one of the earliest theatres forms in the world. Basically Kathakali is a group presentation involving various types of characters, both with goodness and badness. The roots of this ancient play can be traced back to the 17th century. Kathakali has strikingly similarities with other popular art forms such as Krishnanattam, Koodiyattam and Ashtapadiyattam. Like many other ancient art forms, it has been influenced by many of the contemporary art forms of those days. It shares some of its elements with that of art forms such as Mudiyettu, Thiyyattu, Theyyam, Padayani and to name a few. And if you take close notice, you could also see that the body language of Kathakali owes to the traditional martial art of Kerala – Kalarippayattu in many ways.
And over the years, Kathakali has changed a lot and has many visible changes from its earlier forms. And with plays taken its themes from epics such as ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’, and there are 101 classical stories. But, these days you could only see less than half of them being used for performances. What is more interesting is that, the plays are designed to cater to the audiences who are willing to watch it throughout a night, which is almost impossible to recreate these days. And without much surprises, the current plays which lasts for barely three hours, don’t have total representation of the respective stories.
The elaborate make – up codes that Kathakali adapts, allows the characters to have distinct color scheme according to their nature. While green is the color allotted to the noble male characters such as lord Rama, the color given to evil characters such as Ravana too is green – but will have slashed red marks on their cheeks. At the same time, extremely evil characters or highly angry characters will have red predominantly been used, along with a red beard. Aboriginal characters such as hunters are given make ups highlighted in black color, while women have a yellowish make – ups.
Even though an artist is accorded with music playing in the background with percussions, Kathakali remains as one of the most complex art forms, due to the presence of as much as 24 different ‘Mudras’. The art is synonyms with the name ‘Navarasa’, which means the ‘Nine feelings or expressions’ such as – Sringaram (Amor), Hasyam (Humor), Bhayanakam (Fear), Karunam (Pathos), Roudram (Anger), Veeram (Valor), Beebhatsam (Disgust), Adbhutham (Wonder), Shantham (Tranquility). These are extremely complex that an artist usually takes about 8 – 10 years in order to become qualified for performing plays on the screen.
The language of songs used in the play is ‘Manipravalam’, while the ‘ragas’ and of ‘Carnatic music has heavy influence. Another one is the ‘Sopanam’ style, which has its history lies in the traditional temple songs and this style is called ‘Sopanam’. Apart from ‘Elathalam’ and cymbols, the other orchestras used in Kathakali are two drums – Chenda and Maddalam.
Well, there are a lot of things about Kathakali which are not included in this article, because of the reason that this particular art form is beyond words. It belongs to a particular group of art forms, which deserves much respect at the same time patience to know in deeply.