Famous the world over, Kathakali Dance of Kerala is one of the most important classical dance forms of India. Kathakali is basically a dance drama. The word 'Katha' means 'story' and 'Kali' means 'play'. It was originated in South India in the 16th century. Kathakali dancers re-enact stories from the great Hindu Epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. Originally this dance form was only performed in the temples and palaces but now its been performed on various occasions at different places. Over the years, the dance form has undergone immense reformation. There are around 101 classical stories on which Kathakali dance is performed. Knowing the story of the dance before watching the performance is obviously a good idea. It helps you to understand the characters of the dance and to enjoy the dance drama to its fullest.
The Kathakali dancers are truly praise-worthy. Their passion for the dance form can be seen in their performances. It is not at all an easy dance form. It demands a lot of concentration, skill, energy and passion. The training period is usually 8-10 years. Mudras(hand gestures), facial expressions and bodily movements are gracefully used to depict the story. Natyashastra, the science of expressions, is the source of these expressions. Eye movements are very important in Kathakali. It is performed on the rhythm of the powerful vocal music.
"Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. I's the rhythm of your life. It's the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy." by Jaques D'ambroise. This is the spirit with which the Kathakali dancers give their performance. Notice their heavy make-up, its extremely bright and colourful. They actually paint their faces giving them a dramatic look. Each character plays its role very gracefully so that audience can easily make out what the character wants to convey. It is quite a challenging task. Even today the dancers use home made cosmetics for make-up. They are purely herbal in nature. It takes the artists several hours to apply make-up.
On your trip to Kerala make sure you watch at least one Kathakali Performance.