A Christian art form of Kerala, evolved at the turn of the 16th Century AD during the Portuguese colonization and bears definite traces of the European Christian Miracle Plays. In this musical drama, the actors wear Greco-Roman costumes and even the stage props bear several foreign influences. In the past, the Chavittunatakom was performed on open stages, though sometimes the interior of a church was also a venue. The language is a colloquial mix of Tamil and Malayalam.
staged as a social event during festivals and nuptial ceremonies. The artistes beat on a shallow round percussion instrument called the Duffu. The leader of the group sings the lead, while the others form the chorus and move in circles. The songs are often tributes to martyrs, heroes and saints. Duffmuttu can be performed at any time of the day and has no fixed time limit.
Kakkarissi Natakam is a satirical dance-drama based on the puranic legends of Lord Siva and his consort Parvathy and Ganga when they assumed human forms as Kakkalan and Kakkathi - a nomadic tribe of fortune tellers. The legend only serves as a skeletal framework for the play, which often turns into a subtle critique of contemporary society. The language is a blend of Tamil and Malayalam. The chief characters are Kakkalan, Kakkathi, Vedan, Velichappadu,Thampuraan and the ubiquitous Jester. The Dholak, Ganchira, Chenda and the Harmoniumprovide the background score.
Kerala owes its transnational fame to this nearly 300 years old classical dance form which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime. It is said to have evolved from other performing arts like Kutiyattam, Krishnanattam and Kalaripayattu. Kathakali explicates ideas and stories from the Indian epics and Puranas.
Presented in the temple precincts after dusk falls, Kathakali is heralded by the Kelikottu or the beating of drums and to the accompaniment of the Chengila (gong). The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music, drama and dance are unparallelled in any other art form.
The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partly due to its décor, part of which is the kireetamor huge headgear and the kanchukam the over sized jackets, and a long skirt worn over a thick padding of cushions. The identity of the actor is completely mutilated to create a super human being of larger-than-life proportion.
Pacha Vehsam or the green make-up portray noble protagonists.
Kathi Vesham portrays villainous characters.
There are three types of bearded or Thadi Veshams.
• Vella Thadi or White beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman.
• Chuvanna Thadi or Red beard meant for evil characters.
• Karutha Thadi or Black beard for the hunter.
Kari Vesham is used for she-demons.
Minukku (Prettying Up)
The "Minukku Vesham" is used for female characters and sages.
Mudra is a stylized sign language used to depict an idea, a situation or a state of being. A Kathakali actor enacts his ideas through mudras. For this the actor follows a systematic sign language based on Hastalakshana Deepika, a treatise on the language of hand gestures.
Kathakali orchestra is formed of two varieties of drums - the maddalam and chenda; thechengila which is a bell metal gong and the ilathalam or cymbals.
Students of Kathakali have to undergo rigorous training replete with oil massages and separate exercises for eyes, lips, cheeks, mouth and neck. Abhinaya or expression is of prime importance as is nritya or dance and geetham or singing.
Together with highly evocative facial expressions, the mudras and the music both vocal and instrumental, Kathakali unfolds stories from a bygone era in a lofty style reminiscent of the Greek plays. Kerala Kalamandalam is the prominent institution imparting Kathakali training in the traditional way.
Koothu is a socio-religious art performed in the Koothambalam or the Koothuthara of temples, either independently or as part of Kutiyattam. It is a solo narrative performance interspersed with mime and comic interludes. The Chakkiar does the role of 'Vidushaka'or the wise jester. Through his inimitable narration of stories from the epics (The Ramayana and The Mahabharatha), the Chakkiar satirises the manners and customs of the time. No one is above the butt of his ridicule. His wit ranges from innocent mockery to veiled innuendoes, barbed pun and pungent invectives. Koothu is intermittently accompanied by the percussion instrumentMizhavu.
The Nangyar Koothu is a variation of the Koothu performed by the Nangiars or the female members of the Chakkiar community. This is a solo dance drama mainly centred on the legends of Sree Krishna. Verses are sung and interpreted through mime and dance. The mudras, though the same as in Kootiyattam, are even more elaborate. The art form is still performed in temples like Vadakkumnathan temple at Thrissur, Sri Krishna temple at Ambalappuzha, Koodal Manikyam temple at Irinjalakkuda and Kumaranalloor temple at Kottayam.
A spectacle for both the scholar and the simple rustic. The visual effect is enhanced by varied and colourful facial make-up with larger-than-life-masks, made of light wood and cloth padding, for certain characters. The characters who do not wear masks have specific facial colours applied within the frame of a white chutti. The predominant colours used are dark green, flesh tint and deep rose. Most of the characters wear red vests and flowing 'Uthariyams'. The characters of Krishna, Arjuna and Garuda wear dark blue vests.
The traditional performance lasts for eight days and covers the whole span of Krishna's life from his birth to 'Swargarohanam' or ascension to the heavens. Orchestral accompaniments are Maddalam, Ilathalam and Chengila. Krishnanattom, though boasting of a unique choreography, assumes more the nature of a Morality Play, seldom presuming to lay claim to the theatrical sophistry so integral to Kathakali and Kutiyattam.
Kutiyattam literally means "acting together". This is the earliest classical dramatic art form of Kerala. Based on Sage Bharatha's 'Natyasastra' who lived in the second century, Kutiyattam evolved in the 9th century AD.
Kutiyattam is enacted inside the temple theatre, there are two or more characters onstage at the same time, with the Chakkiars providing the male cast and the Nangiars playing the female roles. The Nangiars beat the cymbals and recite verses in Sanskrit, while in the backgroundNambiars play the Mizhavu, a large copper drum.
Vidushaka or the wise man, a figure parallel to the Fool in Shakespearean plays, enacts his role with the liberty to criticise anyone without fear. The costume of the jester sets him apart from the rest. The Kutiyattam performance lasts for several days ranging from 6 to 20 days. Themes are based on mythology.
The Koodal Manikyam temple at Irinjalakkuda and the Vadakkumnatha temple at Thrissur are the main centres where Kutiyattam is still performed annually. Late Ammannoor Madhava Chakkiar was an unrivalled maestro of this rare art form.
Margomkali is a ritual folk art of the Syrian Christians of Kottayam and Thrissur districts. A dozen dancers sing and dance around a lighted wick lamp (Nilavilakku), clad in the simple traditional white dhoti and sporting a peacock feather on the turban to add a touch of colour.
This is an allegorical enactment with the lamp representing Christ and the performers his disciples. The performance is usually held in two parts and begins with songs and dances narrating the life of St.Thomas, the apostle. It then takes a striking turn with a martial play of artificial swords and shields.
The narration is stark without musical accompaniments. The songs date back to a period much before the Portuguese invasion. Today, Margomkali is only performed as a stage item by women.
The sinuous dance of the enchantress, this is a distinctive classical dance form of Kerala. Slow, graceful, swaying movements of the body and limbs and highly emotive eye and hand gestures are unique to this dance form. The simple, elegant gold-filigreed dress, in pure white or ivory, is akin to the traditional attire of the women of Kerala.
The origin of Mohiniyattam is rooted in Hindu mythology. Once the ocean of milk was churned by the gods and demons to extract the elixir of life and immortality. The demons made away with this divine brew.
Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the panicky gods and assumed the female form of an amorous celestial dame Mohini. Captivating the demons with her charms, Mohini stole the elixir from them and restored it to the gods. This dance was adopted by the Devadasi or temple dancers, hence also the name 'Dasiattam' which was very popular during the Chera reign from 9th to 12th century.
A dance form essential to the wedding entertainment and festivities of the Malabar Muslims. Maidens and young female relatives sing and dance around the bride, clapping their hands. The songs of Mappilappattu, are first sung by the leader and are repeated by the chorus. The themes are often teasing comments and innuendoes about the bride's anticipated nuptial bliss. Oppanais often presented as a stage item today.
Thiruvathirakali is a dance performed by women, in order to attain everlasting marital bliss, onThiruvathira day in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December- January). The dance is a celebration of marital fidelity and the female energy, for this is what brought Kamadeva (the god of love) back to life after he was reduced to ashes by the ire of Lord Siva.
The sinuous movements executed by a group of dancers around a nilavilakku, embody 'lasya' or the amorous charm and grace of the feminine. The dance follows a circular, pirouetting pattern accompanied by clapping of the hands and singing. Today, Thiruvathirakali has become a popular dance form for all seasons.
Thullal is a solo performance combining the dance and recitation of stories in verse. Staged during temple festivals, the performer explicates the verses through expressive gestures. The themes are based on mythology. This satiric art form was introduced in the18th century by the renowned poet Kunchan Nambiar .
Humour, satire and social criticism are the hallmarks of Thullal. The make up, though simple, is very much akin to that of Kathakali. The Thullal dancer is supported by a singer who repeats the verses and is accompanied by an orchestra of mridangam or thoppi maddalam (percussions) and cymbals. There are three related forms of Thullal - Ottanthullal , Seethankanthullal andParayanthullal - of which the first is the most popular. The three are distinguished by the costumes worn and the metre of the verses.
Thullal is usually performed in the premises of temples during festivals and provides for thought and entertainment to the thousands of people who gather at these events.