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Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. It originated in the area of southwestern Indianow known as the state of Kerala. Kathakali is a group presentation, in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on themes from Hindu mythology, especially the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata .
O ne of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. Characters are categorized accordingto their nature. This determines the colours used in the make-up. The faces of noble male characters,such as virtuous kings, the divine hero Rama, etc., are predominantly green. Characters of high birth who have an evil streak, such as the demon king Ravana, are allotted a similar green make-up, slashed with red marks on thecheeks. Extremely angry or excessively evil characters wear predominantly red make-up and a flowing red beard. Forest dwellers such as hunters are represented with a predominantly black make-up base. Women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces.
T he technique of Kathakali includes a highly developed language of gesture, through which the artist can convey whole sentences and stories. The body movements and footwork are very rigourous. To attain the high degree of flexibility and muscle control required for this art, a Kathakali dancer undergoes a strenuous course of training, and special periods of body massage.
T he dancers wear large head dresses, and the contours of the face are extended with moulded lime. The extraordinary costumes and make-up serve to raise the participants above the level of mere mortals, so that they may transport the audience to a world of wonders T he orchestra of a Kathakali performance includes two drums known as the chenda and the maddalam, along with cymbals and another percussion instrument, the ela taalam. Normally, twosingers provide the vocal accompaniment.The style of singing particular to Kathakaliis called Sopaanam. The orchestra of a Kathakali troupe is unique and provides not only the background to the dancing, but also serves as a highly expressive special effects team. In the traditional village ambiance, the percussionists also provide publicity for the event by playing outside the venue for some hours before the start of the show.
A traditional Kathakaliperformance begins in the evening and continues throughout the night, culminatingat the auspicious hourof dawn, when Good finally conquers Evil. Today, however, it hasbeen modified for theproscenium stage, and urban audiences can participate in this ritualistic theatre experience in the comfort of a plush auditorium, within the span of a couple of hours.
As a part of modernising, propagating, promoting and popularizing Kathakali, the International Centre for Kathakali at New Delhi has taken up a continuing project since 1980 of producing new plays based on not only traditional and mythological stories, but also historical stories, European classics and Shakespeare's plays. Recently they produced Kathakali plays based on Shakespeare's Othello and Greek-Roman mythology of Psyche and Cupid
Kathakali is considered to be a combination of five elements of fine art:
*. Expressions (Natyam, the component with emphasis on facial expressions)
*. Dance (Nritham, the component of dancewith emphasis on rhythm and movement of hands,legs and body)
*. Enactment (Nrithyam, the element of drama with emphasis on " mudras ", which are hand gestures)
*. Song/vocal accompaniment (Geetha)
*. Instrument accompaniment (Vadyam)
Even though the lyrics/literature wouldqualify as another independent element called Sahithyam , it is considered as a component of Geetha or music, as it plays only a supplementary role to Nritham, Nrithyam and Natyam.
Traditionally there are101 classical Kathakalistories, though the commonly staged among them these days total less than one-third that number. Almost all of them were initially composed to last a whole night. Nowadays, there is increasing popularity for concise, or oftenerselect, versions of stories so as the performance lasts not more than three to four hours from evening. Thus, many stories find stage presentation in parts rather than totality. And the selection is based on criteria like choreographical beauty, thematic relevance/popularity or their melodramaticelements. Kathakali is a classical art form, but it can be appreciated also by novices—all contributed by the elegant looks of its character, their abstract movement and its synchronisation with the musical notes and rhythmic beats. And, in any case, the folk elements too continueto exist. For better appreciation, perhaps,it is still good to have an idea of the story being enacted.
“ "It didn't matter that the story had begun, because Kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings."
The most popular stories enacted are Nalacharitham (a story from the Mahabharata ), Duryodhana Vadham (focusing on the Mahabharata war after profiling the build-up to it), Kalyanasougandhikam , (the story of Bhima going to get flowers for his wife Panchali ), Keechakavadham (another story of Bhima and Panchali , but this time during their stint in disguise), Kiratham ( Arjuna and Lord Shiva 's fight, from the Mahabharata), Karnashapatham (another story from the Mahabharata), Nizhalkuthu and Bhadrakalivijayam authored by Pannisseri Nanu Pillai . Also staged frequently include stories like Kuchelavrittam , Santanagopalam , Balivijayam , Dakshayagam , Rugminiswayamvaram , Kalakeyavadham , Kirmeeravadham , Bakavadham , Poothanamoksham , Subhadraharanam , Balivadham , Rugmangadacharitam , Ravanolbhavam , Narakasuravadham , Uttaraswayamvaram , Harishchandracharitam , Kacha - Devayani and Kamsavadham .
Recently, as part of attempts to further popularise the art, stories from other cultures and mythologies, such as those of Mary Magdalene from the Bible , Homer 's Iliad , and William Shakespeare 's King Lear and Julius Caesar besides Goethe 's Faust too have been adapted into Kathakali scripts and on to its stage.
[ edit ] Music
The language of the songs used for Kathakali is Manipravalam . Though most of the songs are set in ragas based on the microtone-heavy Carnatic music , there is a distinct style of plain-note rendition, which is known as the Sopanam style. This typically Kerala style of rendition takes its roots from the temple songs which used to be sung (continues even now at several temples) at the time when Kathakali was born.
As with the acting style, Kathakali music also has singers from the northern and southern schools. The northern style has largely been groomedby Kerala Kalamandalam in the 20th century.

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