Origin of Kathakali
It was believed that Kathakali was conceived from Krishnanaattam, the dance drama on the life and activities of Lord Krishna created by the Zamorin of Calicut. The reason for that is said as follows: Once Kottarakkara Thampuran the Raja of Kottarakkara who was attracted by the tone of the Krishnanaattam requested the Zamorin for the loan of a troupe of performers on the eve of some festive occasion. Due to internal feuds and political rivalry between them, the Zamorin refused to send the performers and insulted with the remarks: ”It is useless to depute the troupe, because Kottarakkara Thespian’s court would be neither able to appreciate nor understand anything of the highly artistic Krishnanaattam and the high standard of the performance”.
Here the political rivalry between the two chieftains leads to the art rivalry. So Kottarakkara Thampuran initiated a parallel mode of entertainment, which he called Raamanaattam which was later transformed into Aattakatha, and yet later into Kathakali while Krishnanaattam based on the story of Lord Krishna’s activities, Raamanaattam described the complete story of Lord Raman. Krishnanaattam was written in Sanskrit, “the language of the Gods”. Raamanaattam was in Malayalam, the language of the people. By the end of the seventeenth century, the finished product of Raamanaattam was placed before the world under the tittle Kathakali.
The costume of Kathakali has been much influenced by Chaakkyaar koothu and Koodiyattam the two older forms of dramatic representations in vogue in Kerala. The history of their origins dates back to the period of Perumals i.e. much earlier to the introduction of Raamanaattam. The whole scheme of Abhinaya (acting) and the use of Mudras (hand poses) and gestures were bodily adopted in Kathakali from them in addition to its borrowing and refinement of facial make-up and costume. The use of colour, costume, and make-up present a unique show and create an unearthly atmosphere. Kathakali became more attractive and popular than the Chaakkyaar koothu and Koodiyattam. Moreover ,its performance was not restricted to the precincts of the temples. Kathakali had a golden period between 1665 AD and 1743 AD.
Remarkable contributions were also made by Kaartika Thirunal, the king of Travancore, to Kerala’s literature, art and dance. His efforts were also directed to popularising Kathakali among the people. He instituted a tradition of arranging Kathakali performances at various festivals and on the Navaratri night.