Monday, March 24, 2014

Indian Dance Forms 3: Kathakali


The word Katha means a story, anecdote or a narrative. Thus Kathakali means a story play or a dance drama. Rooted in the soil of Kerala, Kathakali is primarily a dance drama form and is extremely colourful with billowing costumes, flowing scarves, ornaments and crowns. The dancers use a specific type of symbolic makeup to portray various roles which are character-types rather than individual characters. Various qualities, human, godlike, demoniacal are well-depicted through fantastic make-up and costumes.The world of Kathakali revolves around noble, heroes and demons locked in battle, with truth triumphing over untruth, and good over evil. The themes are drawn from the two epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, as well as the Puranas.

Kathalkali – recreating the legends & mythology
Basic features
The minute movements of the face, eyebrows and eyeballs, cheeks, the nose and the chin are minutely worked out and various emotions are registered in a flash by each individual actor-dancer. The roles of women are generally played by men, though of late, women are entering the arena.The pure dance element in Kathakali is limited to kalasams, decorative dance movements alternating with an expressional passage where the actor impersonates a character, in tune with the libretto (The text of a dramatic musical work, such as an opera) sung by the musician. A cylindrical drum called chenda, another horizontally held drum (maddalam), cymbals and a gong form the musical accompaniment, with two vocalists rendering the songs.
The dance is rugged and expansive, the music shrill and piercing, the emotional representation rambling and exaggerated. The costumes, head dresses and ornaments combine with the make-up to impart Kathakali a rather weird and fantastic aspect.
The most outstanding feature of Kathakali is its dramatic quality, even though the characters never speak. It is accompanied by musical compositions, involving dialogues, narration and continuity. It employs the lexicon of a highly developed hand-gesture language which enhances the facial expressions and unfolds the text of the drama.
The language of the eyes or the Nayanabhinaya assumes a vitally important role in Kathakali. This dance uses the different parts of the eyes - the eyebrows, eyelids, the eyeballs, the iris and the pupil to the highest degree of eye expression.
Costumes and ornaments

In Kathakali, the make-up is very elaborate and intricate, and each character has a set mode which is strictly observed. Colours like red, green, black, and yellow predominate in Kathakali make-up. Each colour has its own significance and a direct bearing on the characters. This is based on the concept of three gunas(virtues/attributes), namely satvikrajasik and tamasik.The symbolism rigidly adhered to in case of make-up and headgears is also carried out in the costume colours worn by the various characters. Pacha Vesham (green make-up) signifies the portrayal of a noble or a divine character, e.g. Lord Rama.

The Pacha characters usually wear purple, blue or yellow robes. Chuvanna Thadi (red beards) is given to excessively evil characters.The red-beards wear a red jacket. Vella Thadi (white beard) is given to a superhuman like Hanuman. The white-beards wear a white jacket. The scarves which hang down on either side of the body follow the colour patterns set by the make-up. Kathi Vesham (green make-up with streaks of red on the cheeks.) is given to character of high birth who are tainted with evil, e.g. Ravana.Kari Vesham (black make-up) is used to depict she-demons. Lastly Karutha Thadi (black beard) signifies the character of a forest dweller or a hunter.

The lower half of the costume of Kathakali dancer is common to all except in case of the Minukku Vesham(bright yellow make-up) which is used to define the character of a woman or an ascetic.

An attempt is made to enlarge the size of the actors’ proportions by using heavily plaited, voluminous skirts. Strangely enough one is likely to find a lithe, slim and well-trained body, beneath this awe-inspiring make-up, huge headgear and gorgeous costumes.

By and large, the male characters wear dark full-sleeved jackets with coloured (or white) bulging, long skirts. Lengths of white cloth are thrown over the shoulders. The female characters wear their hair in a knot above their forehead veiled with an ornamented scarf that falls over their red jackets, coupled with a white sari covering the lower half of the body.

Kathakali is the most vibrant and the most intricate one among the masked dance forms in India. In Kathakalithe mask of the dancer is not a separate item to be placed on the face of the dancer, as in Chhau. It is prepared by painting it on the face painstakingly, layer by layer with a range of colours, each symbolising characters, virtues and vices - good, bad, evil, woman, hunter, god, demon, snake or monkey. The huge colourful masks are made of wood. Beards of diverse shades and lengths and white beard-like frames are stuck to the dancers’ faces. The lips of the dancers are painted a powdery pink. It takes about 10-12 hours for the make-up to be completed.

The eyes of all the characters are reddened by the application of the juice of a flower, which causes mild irritation, leading to reddening. This red tinge gives them prominence. The bright red eyes suit the various moods of the characters and the colour schemes of the clothes and masks. The ornaments include loads of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, chin-caps, bangles, armbands, gilt breast-plates and bunches of tiny bells strung round the ankles.The evil characters also sport talons (big claw like nails) to depict their vicious nature.

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