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The ethnic groups of Hindus, which handle this art form, are several. The Nair community dominated in the early days of its origin, as they were mostly trained in the martial art, Kalarippayattu, which is diligently used in the training and in a mild form on the stage. Kathakali as we see today is just more than four centuries old. Its global identity and frequency of performance is much more compared to the relative ly older forms.
The popular legend behind Kathakali may be quickly reviewed to establish that there was a great revolutionary and socialistic philosophy that played into the evolution of Kathakali. Zamorin, a local chieftain in the northern Kerala was a patron of Krishnanattom, essentially a dance drama that deals only with the story of Krishna, only within the premises of Krishna-temples. A local chieftain from Kottarakkara, southern Kerala, invited the Zamorin to present Krishnanattom in Kottarakkara. This was turned down by the Zamorin, with a statement that Krishnanattom is not for the unscholarly audience of southern Kerala. With a vengeance, the royal chieftain of Kottarakkara gave rise to Ramanattom. Ramanattom enacted stories from Ramayana and other epics also. In due course of time, as it began to encompass many stories, Ramanattom evolved into a medium with bigger dimension, to 'Play any Story'. This is Kathakali.
Training begins around the age of ten. Each day commences at 3.30 am and ends at 8.30 pm, with short breaks in between. During the monsoon and winter there body massage sessions of 41 to 90 days. As in Koodiyattom each student learns the complete language of Kathakali. Hand-gestures and facial expressions are employed as they are in the case of Koodiyattom. Prepositions too are precisely employed in the use of gestures. The pure dance elements include abstract and meaningful aspects of the body language. As in the other two forms, costumes, ornaments and facial makeup together constitute a character type.
A fair skin tone (minukku) depicts very sober saintly characters and women of noble birth. Green (Pacha) face is for dignified ones or of royal birth. Those with red and white patterns on green cheeks and forehead (Kathi) represent those who very powerful, yet with one or many negative tendencies. White, red and black beards (Taadi) denote relatively low profiles, which increase from white to black, through red. Black females like the females among demons are referred to as Kari. They have small patterns of red, white and yellow on the complete black face. Actors involve deliberation of extempore narrations, as in the case of Koodiyattom; but less elaborately.
A Kathakali performance scheduled to begin at ten in the night will be announced in a special manner. During the evening Chenda, Maddalam (percussion) Elathalam and Chengila (metallic cymbals) will be played loudly. This is expected to be heard even at a distance. Kathakali lovers can identify this instrumental music, which is called kelikottu.
The use of pigments like greens, reds, whites blacks and their combinations, along with lines and patterns make well-classified facial make up types. This is quite in line with the concept used in Koodiyattom. The facial makeup is very elaborate and takes hours of labour by the actors and the trained person called 'chuttikkaran', who lays fine lines of rice paste and fixes white paper bits as prescribed for a type of character. The costumes are more elaborate and heavier than those used in Koodiyattom. The sculpture that each character assumes as the entire costume and facial make up are completed needs to be experienced than described. The intimacy an observer could perceive from such forms with the aesthetically required cut off from reality is the philosophy of visualisation in Kathakali.
The conspicuous reason for the wider exposure Kathakali has been able to attain in short is the process of democratisation that has gone into its performance aspects. Use of Malayalam, the spoken language of Kerala, in the lyrical compositions, the varieties of episodes from epics and otherwise, increased the possibilities of familiarisation and acceptance. Even plays based on Shakespearean stories and Biblical themes have been successfully tried out. While these attempts assured that such experiments are not taboo in Kathakali, they did not last long. Even new stories based on themes from different parts of India did not survive. This is essentially due to the cultural background of Kerala that has gone deep into the technology of acting. Such a phenomenon does not obliterate the essential tenets of Indian dramaturgy as a whole. Hence, the histrionic and aesthetic values are still satisfactorily maintained. The already existed non-rigid community oriented approach still broke the week barriers as top artists from the Muslim and Christian sectors scored high in different compartments of Kathakali. Traditionally, men alone participated in the entire presentation. Kathakali demands no rigid theatre specifications as far as the place of performance is concerned. The strenuous training, stage business and the nightlong performances did play their roles in restricting women. But during the last two decades many girls boldly stepped into this field. But there are just a few who have taken it up very seriously.
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