The Art of Kathakali


The Art of Kathakali

Kathakali employs the four abhinayas, viz Sattvika, expression of thoughts by the efforts of the mind (Bhaava and Rasa). Aangika, conveyance of ideas by the movements of the various parts of the body (gestures).,Vaacika, spoken words, singing, shrieking, etc., and Aharya, the dress and deportment.

As in earlier dramatic forms, Raamanaattam players also sang the padas. But for the vigorous Kathakali, demanding tremendous physical exertion, singing by the actors was exacting and tiring. A change in the practice was conceived by Prince Vettathu Thampuran, who introduced a few fundamental innovations. He provided seperate singers and introduced the chenda, a percussion instrument, to announce a performance and give background sound effect. This drum’s powerful and penetrating sound heightened the acting of supernatural characters appearing on the stage in hideous and fantastic make-ups. The religio-theatrical reforms brought Raamanaattam performances outside the temples for the enjoyment of all sections of the community. Masks were replaced by make-up; Mudras were accentuated, a variety of percussion instruments and characteristic costumes were introduced; singers and musicians formed an independent part of a show.
Symbols of the hand have played an important role in the art of Kathakali. With the help of Mudras, the hand poses are called in Sanskrit, a whole literary expression is reduced to elementary notions. There are sixty-four basic hand poses which connote five hundred words, while the alphabet of the eyes express emotions. Their permutations can be employed to convey any number of meanings requiring any detailed explanation in the modern concept of story-telling.

In the art of Kathakali, all emotional qualities, and psychic conditions acquire remarkable outward manifestation and mukhabhinaya (facial mime) is cunningly, sometimes lightly employed. While the Kathakali use elaborate similes and hyperboles, and fingers permute into mudras to represent words of comparison such as like, as if and same as, the eye-balls roll evanescently to tell the miracles. The face becomes the open drama in which the story is drawn in successive shades and touches of lineament.

According to the theme, a Kathakali song suggests the use of a particular Bhaava and Rasa (aesthetic delights) and the dance and mimicry are rendered most effectively in harmony with these aesthetic appeals. The powerful music heightens the moods of the actor and adds life to acting. He dances to the melodies of the song and executes the various passages with well- defined Padaghats (foot work). It provides scope for the amplification of an emotion and the abridgement of the climax of a story. The powerful footwork trembles the earth below and cuts short the final action.

As Kathakali is a story-play, interpreting a drisya kaavya, its various contrasting characters are presented. There are good and bad characters, demons and gods, wordly and unwordly role-types according to their castes, quality and nature. Each group is distinguished from the other by specific make-ups.

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