BACKGROUND OF KATHAKALI
Over 2,000 years ago Bharatha Muni wrote the NATYASASTRA [The Science of Acting], which became the academic guideline for classical dance, drama, music, costumes, make up and the visual arts of India.
The Kathakali characters were inspired by the stunning sculptures of the temples depicting the gods and goddesses of the Ramayanan and the Mahabharatha. Kathakali also draws its incentive from the temple rituals and earlier forms of classical drama to include Kootha, Koodiyattam, Krishnanattam and various folk arts.
Although Kings ruled the area, the Namboodiris had power, played a vital role in protecting these stories, education, law and spiritual development.
As the Brahamins traveled and settled in various parts of India their stories and culture went with them.
After hundreds of years these sacred stories were performed in the temple fore court for the whole community to experience how their ancestors lived, their aspirations and the spiritual development by which they evolved.
Kootha was one of the fist art forms to emerge from the inner sanctum of the temple. It is a solo classical art, performed exclusively for the Chakyar community. Kootha is a satire using wit and humor to tell stories from the Hindu epics interspersed with political situations, protest and injustice. The story teller is known as a Chakyar.
2,000 years ago Koodiyattam, meaning "dancing together", emerged. It is the oldest surviving Sanskrit drama on earth and based in Kerala.
Koodiyattam involves elements of temple ritual, chanting in Sanskrit and acting accompanied by drummers. As they story telling element evolved the performing techniques develop to incorporate emotion, characters and an elaborate sign language called Mudras.
The Mudras began approximately 6,000 years ago as a system of signs to help the priests remember the Vedas called Veda Mudras. These developed further into the temple rituals approximately 4,000 years ago and began to represent words or objects and called Puja Mudras. At this stage there was no performance and no audience.
It was only when the arts were accepted as a pathway to divinity that the Mudras became part of a dramatic language approximately 2,000 years ago and known as the language of the gods.
The Islamic invasion gave rise to the beginning of the Bakti [devotion] movement within the Hindu communities.
This movement was instigated by a poet and devotee of Lord Krishna called Jayadevan. He wrote eight padams [poems] called the Geetha Govindam [songs of Lord Krishna`s life]. These poems change the future of the arts in India by encouraging devotion to Lord Krishna.
A devotee of Lord Krishna called Tuchattu Ramanujan Ezuttachan, known as the father of Malayalam [the local language of Kerala], created the Malayalam alphabet and its language structure. He translated the The Ramayana [story of Lord Rama] into Malayalam to teach the local people to read, write and gain valuable access to knowledge.
These poets, scholars and the innovative performing style of Jayadevan changed the the arts, and the lives of people, in Kerala forever. People could read, write, comprehend the sacred text, dance, sing, act and paint. Kerala was liberated and educated through these early visionaries.
A devotee of Lord Krishna and King of Calicut, Manadevan, appointed vocalists to sing Krishna Geethi [songs of Krishna] inside the inner sanctum of the temple to bring adoration to Lord Krishna onto the dramatic stage, approximately 600 years ago, and called it Krishnanattam.
The pioneering techniques used in Krishnanattam released the actor to express the full impact of the play purely through gesture.
In the 17th century it is alleged that the King of Kottaraka, south Kerala, was intrigued by the power of the Krishnattam performers.
He invited the Krishnanattam Troupe to perform in South Kerala, the King of Calicut refused his invitation so the King of Kotarraka created eight new stories based on the life of Lord Rama and called the art form Ramanattam.
Writers and poets began to create stories from other sacred books such as the Mahabharatha, therefore, Ramanattam was no longer an appropriate name.
In the mid 17th century improvements to the performing style of Kathakali were made by Vettathu Raja living north east of Kochi. He introduced several important developments to Kathakali:
2: The chengila [cymbols] to provide the Tala - beat.
3: The Chenda - a powerful drum originally used in temple
rituals and to accompany the Thol Pava Kuttu puppets.
4: The Thiranukuu - a method of introducing the characters
in the play from behind a large satin curtain, called aTereshiela, held at
the front of the stage.
At the end of the 17 century a number of Kathakali Troupes called a Kali Yogam. The Kali Yagam was managed by the lead actor who was responsible for the training, rehearsals [that took place in the monsoon season] and arranged the performances in the temples throughout Kerala.
The King of Kottarakara also made significant changes to Kathakali by introducing Malayalam into the Sanskrit singing and presenting the plays in the temple forecourt so that the local people could see them. Kathakali had now reached the local people and became their doorway into the sacred stories of Hinduism.
A Kathakali singer has the responsibility of providing the rhythm, melody and emotion. This form of singing is known as Vachika Abinayam. As the arts of Kerala expanded the music of the temples was incorporated into the classical story telling techniques.
The musicians stand at the back of the stage. One singer hits a brass Chengala [gong] with a wooden stick, the other uses a set of Elatalam [cymbols] to keep the Tala [rhythm].
There are three drums used in Kathakali, The Madalam, played with both hands, the Chenda - played with sticks and hand, the Edekka, played with hands and stick.
The training of all members of a Kathakali Troupe takes years of hard work and devotion. Each section has an Ashan - Guru - who will guide his student throughout his life.
For the actor it takes a minimum f 13 years to train a Kathakali actor. The training techniques are based on the ancient exercises of the military called Kalari Pyattu laid down in the Natyasastra and remain the basis of Kathakali training.
"Where the hand moves, the eyes follow.
Where the eyes move, the mind follows.
Where the mind moves, the mood follows.
Where the mood goes, there the Rasa [flavour] arises".
In Kathakali the eyes and face are very important and the most difficult skill for an actor to master. The facial expressions are calledSatvika Abhinayam and require years of intense training to enable the actor to express their "inner performer".
1 - Sringaram - love
2 - Hasyam - big headed
3 - Karunam - sad
4 - Veeram - proud
5 - Raudram - anger
6 - Bhayanakam - fear
7 - Beeblsam - disgust
8 - Atbhutum - wonder
9 - Sandham - peace.
Kathakali has the most extraordinary visual impact on the audience through the stunning costumes and make up.
This technique is in the Guinness Book of Records as the most three dimensional make up in the world.
The characters are "personality types" ranging from the gods to the most evil are represented by specific designs and colours.
Basic character types:
1 - Pacha - green - heroic
2 - Katti - green with some red signifying a fallen hero.
3- Tadi - red & black beards are evil.
4 - Tadi - white beard is Hannuman
5 - Katalan - forest dweller
6 - Minnikku - radiant - female characters, brahmins
7 - specials such as Narasymham - lion
A traditional Kathakali play is usually performed as part of a village temple festival in the temple forecourt illuminated with lights and decorated with flowers.
Without this rescue Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Ottanthulal and Koodiyattam would probably have become extinct.
Kathakali brought humanity into Hinduism to express emotions that go beyond words. The temple rituals, first performed in secret, have evolved into a vibrant drama that embraces the essence of what it is to be human.
Books - various.
THE HISTORY OF THE MUDRAS
A documentary style DVD that traces the evolution of the Mudras[sign language] from pre history, into the temples and finally into the arts.
A DICTIONARY OF THE KATHAKALI SIGN LANGUAGE:
First in the world - An interactive DVD [to be used only on a PC] will enable you to learn the complete sign language used in Kathakali.
First in the world - An interactive DVD [to be used on a PC] explores how the ancient sign language of the classical arts of India has been adapted into the English alphabet and language incorporating over 2,000 words. Ideal for teaching or learning English as a foreign language, or for people who learn visually.
A GATEWAY TO KATHAKALI.
An ideal short introduction to Kathakali, the history and how to understand a Kathakali play.
Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar
1 Holland Rd, Woolston,
SO19 9FW. UK
Mobile: + 44 7740123070