Kathakali - Classical Technique
From "A Dancer on Dance" written by V.P. Dhananjayan, published by Bharata Kalanjali
in Kathakali is highly classical and the audience have some knowledge of
the idiom of the play. The actors do not speak at all.
The only speech comes from the singers and the songs tell the story and
are very often in dialogue form. The words, sentiments, the emotions,
all these are expressed by the actors through body movement, stylized hand
gestures (called Pastas or Murders) and through facial expressions.
The hand gestures are stylized and
each one of these gestures has a meaning. These 'Hashes' as they
are called, have the common characteristics of all forms deriving from
the Natty Sister of Brahma. Kathakali has adapted these and developed
its own code, and the entire vocabulary of the spoken language. In
Kathakali, these gestures are dynamic in movement, while in many other
dance forms they are static. Number, tense, mood and all the shades
of grammatical niceties can be conveyed through gestures.
Drums of Kathakali
It is very strange - the same drum
speaks differently on different occasions - whether it be a temple
festival of the 'Thirauattam' (a folk ritual) or Velichappadan (Oracle)
or the Onathar (a folk dance indicating the arrival of Mahabali during
Onam day) or a cinema pamphlet's distribution. The people of Kerala
can distinguish the different beats of the same drum in those different
situations. And the same drum, 'Chenda', speaks a different note
for a Kathakali event and that is how people get notice of a Kathakali
The hustle and bustle of the busy
evening is broken by the strains of the 'Chenda' heard even at a distance
of 4 to 5 miles, announcing the performance of Kathakali that night somewhere,
and the people are drawn towards the sound of the speaking drums, Chenda
and Maddalam. Chenda and maddalam are high precision classical instruments
which need rigorous training for several years to master the art,
and the intricacies are even greater than the Tavil or Mridangam.
For each occasion, the refrain of beats is distinct. To play Chenda
and Maddalam for a Kathakali performance requires an entirely different
training, to evoke the requisite speaking quality of the drum.
The combination of Chenda, Maddalam
and Elattalam is a feast of marvelous sound with penetrating and reverberating
beats, which only the classically tuned ears can take, like any other classical
forms of art. The richness of Kathakali commences with the vibration
of these mystical drums and carries splendour from the finger tips of the
player to the attentive ears of the spectators.
a Kathakali actor
to become a Kathakali actor one has to undergo a very strenuous and
rigorous course of physical training, including separate exercise of muscles,
eye-balls, eye-brows, eye-lids, lips, neck, shoulder, etc., and must
have a through knowledge of literature, Sanskrit and Malayalam and deep
awareness of the Puranas and Ithihasas (epics and mythologies). he
must also have the dexterity of an artist (painter) to know the combinations
of colour and lining to draw the intricate designs on the face, plus a
face itself that would match the imaginative make-up. One in whom
all these are combined only can make a mark in Kathakali. Also there
is no question of doing 'Arangetram' in six months or one year or even
three years. The only standard for 'Arangetram' in Kathakali is real
proficiency in the art with all perquisite knowledge. The tradition
still persists that no cheap popularity is attained by publicity
or high influence. One has to come up only by virtue of merit.