Kerala, lovingly referred as ‘God’s own country’, is known for its lovely beaches and swaying palms, besides being the home for several forms of dances typical to this land. While some of these dances have originated in the region, some have been adopted from other areas.
KATHAKALI is the most famous dance-drama of Kerala. This classical art from is distinguished by several unique features. It is a marvelous blend of the TANDAVA (masculine) and LASYA (exotic) elements of dancing. The origin of Kathakali is considered to be more than 1500 years old. The costume, make-up, movements, expressions and the language make KATHAKALI a visual treat. The make-up charges according to he characters enacted. The actors do not speak, but enact the PADAMS (dialogues) sung by the singers behind. The themes of KATHAKALI are drawn from Indian myth and the characters are gods, humans and demons.
The stories revolve around the lives, loves and times of gods, demons and humans. KATHAKALI consists of three fine arts. ABHINAYAM (acting) NRITYAM (dancing) and GEETAM (singing). The actors enact their roles with the help of MUDRAS (hand-gestures) and facial expressions.
Music is a very essential aspect of KATHAKALI. Two musicians sing the PADAMS, drums-CHENDA and MADDALAM provide the percussion. The music, through carnatic, has a typical flavour of Kerala and it adheres to the THALA (rhythm) instead of RAAGA.
The costumes of Kathakali are designed for the various mythical characters presented. There are five major types of costume designs, each having set modes of make up, attire and adornment. Each type denotes certain characteristics or qualities possessed by the character. These types are usually known by the predominant colour applied to the face or its pattern. They are PACHA (green) KATHI (knife) THAADI (beard) KARI (BLACKS) and minukku (Polished).
PACHA denotes virtuous and noble characters. The KATHI type includes the proud, aggressive and unrighteous characters. THAADI or the bearded type are of three varieties – CHUVANNA THAADI (red beard) denotes the aggressive and demoniac; VELLATHAADI (white beard) denotes mythical and fabulous being like the Monkey-Gods and KARUTHA THAADI (black beard), the tribesmen, forest-men and cave dwellers. The KARI type represents low characters. The kind of MINUKKU (make-up) represents women, sages, Brahmins etc., whose appearance has a polished look. KATHAKALI is presented at night, for festivals it runs whole night till dawn.
This is a ritual dance from, and one of the oldest forms of dances. THEYYAM is associated with the cult of Goddess BHAGAWATI, glorifying the Goddess. The themes of these dances revolve around the triumph of the Goddess over the evil characters like the demon DARAKA (DARAKASURAN). THEYYAM is always performed by men and they are often costumed as women in exotic make-up. The men performing the dance wear masks and elaborate costumes. The head-dress made of palm leaves and cloth can at times rise well over forty feet in height! The dancer moves to the rhythm of CHENDA (drum) and when the dance picks up momentum, he casts a spell on the spectators, often in a religious way.
It is the typical dance from of Kerala that exudes enchantment, grace and passion. MOHINIYATTAM is a fusion of BHARATHANATYAM and KATHAKALI, as it combines the graceful elegance of Bharathanatyam and dynamism and vigour of KATHAKALI. The performances are done only by women. MOHINIYATTAM has several phases in its presentations such as SOLKETTU, VARNAM, PADAM, THILLANA, KAIKOTTIKKALI, KUMMI and SWARAM. The predominant mood created is SRINGARAM (erotic).
The performing artist is dressed in traditional costume consisting of MUNDU and MELMUNDU (Dhoti with Jarikar border worn around abdomen and chest, the second one on top of the other). Hairstyle is traditional, hair bunched together at the side of the side of the head and adorned by white flowers.
In MOHINIYATTAM, the LASYA element of dancing is predominant, and the mood created is SRINGARAM (erotic) MOHINIYATTAM literally means the ‘Dance of the Temptress.’
The ‘ARYANS’, who came to this land centuries before the beginning of the Christian era, brought with them the languages Sanskrit and their culture. They introduced a new dance form, KOODIYATTAM, which, unlike the most other dance forms, include women participants. Since KOODIYATTAM performances were proffered as offering to the deity, they were enacted only in temples. For the purpose, many temples have beautiful pavilions within their precincts which are known as KOOTHAMBALAM, with high sloping roofs covered with metal sheetings.
A KOODIYATTAM performance is a long drawnout affair, taking place at night and lasting for days. The story unfolds leisurely and the text is augmented by the performers by expanding upon them with anecdotes, satire and innuendos. Politics, philosophy and social behaviour are covered in the comments. The pivotal roles in these performances belong to the Jester, as he is the only one who speaks and the language is MALAYALAM. He translates the Sanskrit version with a touch of humour. He also acts as a bridge between the actor and the audience.
Fairs and Festivals Pooram
The most spectacular of these is TRISSR POORAM, the annual temple festival in TRISSUR. Held in April-May, it includes a spectacular procession of ten temple deities. Some thirty caparisoned elephants of a uniform size in the forefront lead the celebration. Atop them sit Brahmin priests under silk parasols. The procession winds its way through the streets throughout the day to the accompaniment of ritual music, while devotees make offering of rice and flowers. Following sunset, the spectacle is again enacted, this time accompanied by flaming torches and fireworks, and heralded by the roll of drums. For those who would like to participate in concerts, this is the time for some of the finest KATHAKALI performances and Carnatic music recitals.
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