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Kathakali Indian Theatre
Transcript of Kathakali Indian Theatre
Kathakali's Origins and Influences:
Kathakali theatre has evolved throughout the centuries, and finds influence in a combination of different performance dramas.
Major influences include Kerala's classical theatre, folk/ritual performance traditions, and martial arts.
The influence of classical Kerala theatre:
Kerala's form of classical theatre is called "Kūtiyāttam", which when translated means, "combined acting".
Kathakali's formal chanted text and vocalized narration also arise from Kūtiyāttam.
The influence of Kerala ritual/folk tradition:
The most influential Keralic ritual performances are Teyyam ("dance of the gods") and Mudiettu.
Teyyam is the name given to the hundreds of different types ritual performances in Kerala.
Mudiettu is a type of ritual that is performed at festivals in Kerala temples.
The influence of Kerala martial arts:
A major influence on Kathakali is Kerala's martial arts practice, also known as "Kalarippayatt".
Acting stances and poses, strong dance choreography, and a sense of heroism come from Kalarippayatt.
It is from Kūtiyāttam that Kathakali takes its use of hand gestures ("mudras") and facial expressions in place of dialogue.
As you have seen, Kathakali is a
intensely flexible and strong theatre that takes root in many cultural and religious influences and traditions.
We shall now take an in-depth look at Kathakali technique and practice itself and observe the qualities of Kathakali dance-drama.
Kathakali and the stage:
Kathakali's story and play content are based on Kerala's religion, Hinduism.
There are two main Hindu epic poems which Kathakali take and draws themes from;
The Ramayana dates back to 300 B.C.E., over 2,000 years ago.
It is an extremely lengthy text, measuring up to 24,000 verses long.
It is an account of the life of Rama, the human form of the Hindu God, Vishnu.
Rama provides an archetype for the ideal Hindu man, who is strong, wise, and courageous, while his human wife, Sita, is the ideal woman counterpart.
The Ramayana is so influential that it has been converted into T.V. shows, movies, and even graphic comics.
The Mahabharata is over 2,500 years old.
It is said to have been written by the God of wisdom, and focuses on the frivolity of war and hatred.
It is over 100,000 verses long, (10x longer than the Bible), and like the Ramayana, has been entwined with Indian pop culture.
Kathakali and the stage:
Although Kathakali is hundreds of years old and has evolved throughout its lifetime, it still began on a simple stage.
The earliest Kathakali plays were staged outside of homes and on the outsides of temple walls.
The earliest humble stages were nothing more than large rectangles drawn into the dirt.
They measured about 20-30 square feet in size, and used a simple system of erecting poles and covering them with cloth to determine the confines of the stage.
Using this staging method, the audience could sit on three sides of the stage, allowing for a better view of the performance.
The entrances of characters onto the stage generally involved the use of a hand-held curtain, known as a tirassila.
Kathakali performances generally allowed for very limited set pieces, as they are highly symbolic and representational.
The only set piece one might have is a wooden stool that allowed actors to sit if the play called for it, or to stand upon, to give the illusion of height or superiority.
Kathakali's use of props, similar to the of its set pieces, were fairly limited in performances.
The only props used were generally weapons (bows, swords, maces, etc.).
Kathakali performances borrow themes of righteousness, valor, good triumphing over evil, and many other heroic morals from these texts.
Now that we have defined the stage of Kathakali, we may delve into one of the most fundamentally characterizing aspects of the dance-drama.
Kathakali: Maquillage and Garb
(Costume and Makeup)
Kathakali's dress and cosmetics are immensely complex, vibrant, and colorful.
They are strikingly symbolic, and allow the actors to transcend plain acting and become perfect archetypes for their characters.
2) Ripe (
3) Knife (
4) Black (
5) Beard (
a) White Beard (
b) Red Beard (
c) Black Beard (
6) Radiant/Shining (
7) Special (
These characters are often extremely moral and ideal. They are the pinnacle of refinement and demureness.
The character also wears a set of bells that are often strapped to the legs just below the knee so that their dancing carries a distinct sound.
Most pacca characters wear an incredibly jeweled, medium sized crown, although some may adorn a special silver crown.
"Ripe" makeup is used for only four different characters in Kathakali performances: Balarama, Brahma, Shiva, and Surya.
Knife characters are considered to be arrogant or evil, but often have some qualities that redeem them.
They are recognizable by their highly stylized mustache, as well as the white, bulbous protrusions that emanate from the nose and head.
Their makeup is similar to pacca characters, but add to it with a red mustache and pattern above the eyes.
The black color in Kathakali is reserved for the "demoness" archetype.
They are considered to be extremely vile, malicious, and grotesque.
They generally wear black dress and makeup, that include patches of red and white color in dotted patterns, and they also tend to have overly-exemplified breasts.
Kari also have a special headdress in the shape of a bucket, rather than the normal crown.
There are three types of tati characters, all with a beard that is colored to indicate their intentions and natures.
This class is reserved for higher, divine humans.
They have red/white/black makeup, along with green noses to symbolize honesty and virtue. They also have gold chest plates.
Red beards are reserved for evil characters, generally demons.
They have black eye and lip makeup, a white mustache that travels up to the ears, and bulbous protrusions that are larger than that of the knife (kati) class.
Additionally, they possess a larger than normal crown with a red frame, and wear costumes that are furry to suggest unrefinement. This is typically the opposite of pacca.
Black beards are considered to be evil, like red beards, but much more clever and scheming.
The lower face is black, as well as the upper skirt. The lower skirt is dark blue, and they possess the same "bucket-shaped" headdress as the black (kari) demonesses.
Their distinguishing feature is a stylized flower shape on the nose, showing their strong affiliation with nature.
The minukku type includes female heroines and spiritually pure males. They are considered to be direct opposites of the black (kari) type.
Their makeup/costumes are typically yellow/orange, and they adorn special crowns for their roles.
The teppu archetype consists of approximately eighteen different characters that do not fit into any of the other six types. They are the miscellaneous group.
Kathakali: Music and dance
Kathakali music is extremely intricate and complex, using melodies (ragas), and rhythms (talas) to create a mood for a scene and to further the performance.
When changes occur in the ragas and talas, the mood of the performance changes, imposing new feelings upon the audience.
There are six basic talas (rhythmic patterns) that indicate different actions and emotions in the play.
1) Cempata - versatile tala, used for many emotions; concluding scenes
2) Campa - scenes with tension, disputes, battles
3) Atanta - feelings of dignity, used for majestic qualities
4) Pancari - mixed range of feelings including horror, repulsion, and humor
5) Triputa - scenes concerning religion; holy men
6) Muri atanta - scenes where anger or heroism are significant
During a Kathakali performance, the tala is sung by the vocalists (led by the head singer or "ponnani") who also recite text.
The ponnani also leads the percussion orchestra in setting the mood for the play via the use of a gong, known as the "cenkila".
The secondary singer plays hand cymbals and drums to assist the ponnani in reinforcing the emotional mood and context of the performance.
It is through these performers that the play is guided along, and allowed to become a true dance-drama.
Along with the musicians, the dancers (the actors of Kathakali) play a central role in communicating the story to the audience.
There are four main types of dances that serve different purposes:
Performed before the performance as a practice for actors.
Assist with developing technique, body movements/stances, foot/hand usage, and rhythm.
They are accompanied by the percussion orchestra, but not the singers.
3) Set pieces of choreography:
Used to introduce characters or specific types of scenes
4) Improvised dances:
These dances allow for senior actors to elaborate on specific parts of the text through improvisation.
Greatly influence the technical aspect and physical energy of Kathakali.
Kathakali is most known for its incredibly vibrant and decorative costumes, and use of hand gestures to tell story.
These dances are performed along with accompanying "mudras", complex hand gestures that invoke an array of emotions, or "bhava".
Mudras can include many types of gestures, such as heroism, power, anger, personal relationships, description, friendship, and love.
Here is a short video clip that emphasizes the roles of the percussionists, singers, dancers, and actors in Kathakali.
To summarize, Kathakali is an ever evolving dance-drama that draws influences from many of India's ancient traditions and Hinduism.
It uses highly stylized dance, costumes, makeups, hand gestures, and musical performance to tell its symbolic story and to make the audience feel and understand what they are seeing.
It is an extremely dynamic theatre that is a true embodiment of not only Indian, but also of non-western theatre.
Kathakali began in the 1600's in Kerala, South India.
They have strong influence on Kathakali's incredibly complex and vibrant makeup, stylized costumes, use of color, and technique/play content.
Kathakali, which means "story-play" is a dramatized version of Hindu epic poems , as well as "puranas", ancient Hindu texts describing the lives of deities.
A Kathakali performance in the 17th century could easily last all night, so a large oil lamp, called the kalivilakku, was placed at center-stage to light the actor's faces, as well as to add a mystifying quality to the performance.
There are seven different makeup types that define a specific type of character in Kathakali theatre:
1) Green (
Green makeup defines heroic characters as well as divine figures.
The costume of a pacca character consists of an elaborate upper body dress to accentuate refinement, as well as a red/white skirt that includes colored stripes.
The makeup style is similar to that of pacca, but rather than green, it uses an orange-red color.
Payuppu characters have accessories and adornments that are similar to pacca's, but have red/blue costumes rather than red/white.
It is an incredibly stylized classical Indian dance-drama that takes root in Hindu mythology and religion.
1) Preliminary or "Pure" dances:
2) Accentuating or "Linking" dances:
These are the primary dance compositions of a Kathakali performance that tell the story.