“Then come the lights shining on you from above. You are a performer. You forget all you learned, the process of technique, the fear, the pain, you even forget who you are you become one with the music, the lights, indeed one with the dance.” It is a quote by Shirley Maclaine but the essence it echoes can be truly seen during Kathakali performances in Kerala.
Kathakali dance or dance-drama occupies a prized place in the culture of Kerala. Surcharged with passion, the Kathakali dancers set the stage on fire with their performances. During the performances the dancers play various characters such as God, demon, hero and heroines. Heavy make up and elaborate costumes are the most striking features of Kathakali dance. Kathakali is a classical dance form which earned international fame for Kerala. The word Katha means story and kali means play. Its history dates back to the 17th century. The Ramamattom and Krishnattom are the two traditional art forms which gave birth to Kathakali. During its evolution Kathakali also incorporated elements from folk and martial arts which were quite popular in Kerala during that time. This dance-drama is a perfect blend of various art forms such as dance, music, drama, literature and instruments.
Initially 101 classical Kathakali stories were composed, each of which would last a whole night. But these days the concise version of each story(lasts for 2-4 hours) is preferred. The popular stories enacted in Kathakali are Nala Charitam(a story from the Mahabharata), Duryodhana Vadham(a story from the Mahabharata), Kalyanasowgandhikam(the story of Bhima going to gather flowers for Panchali)Kiratham (Arjun and lord Shiva's fight, from Mahabharata) and Karna Shapadham(from Mahabharata).
Kathakali dancers put in a lot of hard work in learning this fabulous art form. They undergo vigorous training and their training period usually lasts for 8-10 years. Their mudras(hand gesture), facial expressions and body movements paint a thousand words during the performance. Their colourful make up give them a dramatic look which adds more beauty to the dance. It takes them hours to wear make up. Everything about Kathakali dance is extraordinary!