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Kathakali performer

Kathakali (Malayalam: കഥകളി, kathakaḷi; Sanskrit:कथाकेळिः, kathākēḷiḥ) is a stylized classical Indian dance-drama that has its origin in Kerala. It is noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion. It originated during the 17th century and has developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming.


  • Kathakali is probably the most fascinating traditional performing art form in India's rich cultural pageant... this uniquely interpretative dance governed by dramatic dynamics, including an elaborately defined code of body kinetics, which combine with beautifully eloquent gestural representation.
  • Kathakali dance-drama is like a vast and deep ocean. Some may come to a performance with their hands cupped and only be able to take away what doesn’t slip through their fingers. Others may come with a small vessel, and may be able to drink that : And still others may come with a huge cooking pot and take away much more.
  • At old feasts there were always supposed to be sixty-four items served with rice. Katahakali is like that – it’s got sixty-four attractions. If you liken one thing, you can fix your attention on that.
    • By V.R. Prabhodachnadra Nair quoted in “Kathakali: The Art of the Non-Worldly”, p. 1
  • It didn't matter that the story had begun, because Kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings.
Kathakali stage performance
  • To the Kathakali man these stories are his children and his childhood. He has grown up within them. They are the house he was raised in, the meadows he played in. They are his windows and his way of seeing. So when he tells a story, he handles it as he would a child of his own. He teases it. He punishes it. He sends it up like a bubble. He wrestles it to the ground and lets it go again. He laughs at it because he loves it. He can fly you across whole worlds in minutes, he can stop for hours to examine a wilting leaf. Or play with a sleeping monkey's tail. He can turn effortlessly from the carnage of war into the felicity of a woman washing her hair in a mountain stream. From the crafty ebullience of a rakshasa with a new idea into a gossipy Malayali with a scandal to spread. From the sensuousness of a woman with a baby at her breast into the seductive mischief of Krishna's smile. He can reveal the nugget of sorrow that happiness contains. The hidden fish of shame in a sea of glory.
Kathakali drummer
  • Actually, there are two kinds of audiences for new plays. One set observes them without any per-conceived notions about Kathakali and accept it as a way forward for the art form. Then there are those self-proclaimed ‘critics' who believe that it's their moral right to question why I've had the gall to change something – why Vavar, for example, doesn't follow a particular style of vesham. I don't believe in compromising the aesthetics of plays or characters to suit so-called traditionalists.
  • I have blended the stylized Kalluvazhi tradition with the more flexible semi-realistic emotion filled southern style technique. Kathakali without the elaborate costumes is easily comprehensible and so it is a good idea to initiate in people the love of Kathakali without the costume to start with. When rasikas have understood the finer nuances of Kathakali, then the costume assumes its place of importance. I personally would prefer the traditional approach and would not like to compromise on the finer aspects.

The Kathakali complex[edit]

Philip Zarrilly (1 January 1984). The Kathakali complex. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 978-81-7017-187-4. 

  • Kathakali has become a world-famous dance-drama within the least fifteen years. Nearly every foreigner who visits Kerala wants to see a Kathakali performance
  • Everything is bizarre, sub human and superhuman all at once. The dancers do not walk like human beings - they glide… The world we know offers nothing even remotely comparable to this grotesque splendor. Watching these spectacles one is transported to a world of dreams for that is the only place where we might conceivably meet with anything similar.
  • Kathakali as (1) “ritual theatre” implies an actor (2) who is “transformed”, an audience (3) which is “transported”, a world (4) which is “dreamlike,” and a tradition (5) which is “ancient” (teaching primitive roots). Collectively these five elements created a kathakali “mystique”
  • Clearly what holds the attention is the powerful spiritual substance of this kind of performance. The performers enter with reverence and go through some form of invocations before the show begins.
    • On the rhetoric of the Kathakali ‘mystique’ in "Sun, London", quoted in p. 7
Kathakali Dancer
  • When at last the gods triumph once more over evil, the tension breaks, the music stops, and slowly the drum beats cease. Almost unwillingly one wakes up from the reverie, tired and exhausted, but triumphant as one who has danced with gods.
    • From Tehran Journal, quoted in p. 7
  • Within five hours these small somewhat bandy and rather tired men were to transform themselves into awe-inspiring and terrible gods. .. The actors lay down upon the floor and soon seem to be asleep, breathing heavily and deeply…But this, it is said is the time that the inner transformation into god or demon will get underway …The actors are wakened; gait and gesture have been changed; the look in the eyes has become intimidating
    • From ”Superman”, Australia...Bulletin, quoted in p. 7
  • The object of this pantomime is a form of magical transformation...Kathakali is at once ritual as well as drama...It remains modern and at the same time ritualistic in its abstract characterization, in its concentration on the visuals, and in its belief in magical transformation.
    • In Washington Post under the title “The Exotic Dance Drama of India”, quoted in p. 7

External links[edit]

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