Art Forms of Kerala
Kerala has an astonishing range of dramatic and martial art forms, many of which are extant today.
The youngest of the classical forms and a highly refined pantomime dance drama, the all-male Kathakali is one of the most colourful and recognizable dances of india. It is as much about make-up costume, elaborate headagear and jewellery as about expressions, dialogues and story (Kathakali literally means story performance)
The make-up code for Kathakali is elaborate – for instance, a green face denotes a divine and heroic character- and putting it on is a complex 4-hr process. The stories are mainly from the epics, especially the Mahabharatha . Traditionally all night performances used to take place in temple courtyards.
As with any classical form over the years Kathakali incorporated many elements from various forms and its ‘origins’ are hard to trace.There are those who trace it to Ramanattam, penned by Kottayam Thampuran. Some say the early performances were given in Malabar some 400 years back, by trouples of actors patronized by local kings and noblemen (especially the Namboodiri Brahmins o Malabar)
Literally “the dance of the enchantress’ Mohiniyattam is associated with Vishnu as he took on the guise of a beauty called Mohini in two mythological tales. It is traditionally performed by women. Recognisable by solo dancer’s white sari with gold border, it’s also about the costume and elaborates hairstyles that have been immoralised in Raja Ravi Varma’s Paintings.
The origin of Mohiniattam is traced back to the 16th and the 17th centuries. Some consider the 18th –century Balaramabharatham, by Karthika Thirunal Balarama varma, to be the authentic treatise on Mohiniattam .Others point to earlier references. But most agree that the dance corresponds to several chapters of the Natyashastra written in 2 BCE. There is some debate about whether Mohiniattam was performed by Devadasis in temples. Its modern form as a recognized classical dance of india owes much to the famous Guru Kalamandalam Kalyanikutti Amma.
The oldest performing art in Kerala Koodiyattam was described by UNESCO as a “master piece” of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity”. For close to 2000 years this art form has been giving exression to the deepest of human emotions – anger, frustration, happiness, joy ..using ancient Sanskrit text such as the plays of Bhasa. It was text such as the plays of Bhasa. It was an integral part of temple worship; in fact it was as late as 1955 that the celebrated Guru Mani Madhav Chakyar performed for the first time outside a temple (risking threats of excommunication from a deeply conservative community).
Koodiyattam has traditionally been performed by the chakyars (a splinter group of the Namboodiri Brahmin Caste) who today number no more than 200 members spread over seven families. Yet as in the days of yore, they continue to be the sole performance of Koodiyattam and koothu, also called Chakyar Koothy. Both men(Nambiars) and women (Nangiars) participate in the performance.
Theyyam has its roots in age-old tribal rituals to propitiate village deities, spirits ancestors and the like. With time, this living tradition became oriente to Hindu deities. Distinct from other temple art forms. Theyyam artistes are usually from tribes or from so- called ‘lower’ castes.
Theyyam is an all-male performance danced to drums, cymbals and pipes. With elaborate masks, body paint, headgear and costumes. It uses some incredibly vibrant colours, especially the rich red. The art is confined to the northern hamlets of Malabar.
The word ‘ Theyyam’ us said to come from devam (gods) and refers to bothe who’s said to attain supernatural powers during the performance. He becomes the manifestation of the divine. In their god- performer the people watching Theyyam are as important in this form as the performer.
If legends were to be given the go-by this marital art’s origins can be traced to 9-12th century Kerala, when many feudal lords were constantly waging wars over their small kingdoms. Each region had its own small band of trained fighters, mostly from the Nair community, for protection. These soldiers, it is said, gave kalaripayattu its current form.
The word kalari denotes a gymnasium or school and payattu menas both exercise and fight. Perfection in the form comes after years of concentrated training at the kalari. The process is spread over three stages, starting with Meippayat (exercises to control the body). This is followed by kolthari(fighting with sticks) and Ankathari (felicity in using metal weapons such as daggers and swords). The weapons commonly used inclue otta(curved stick), urumi (a flexible sword, popular with women) and kettukari (long stick).
Talented disciples go on to learn much more. They are taught secrets about the human marma (108 highly sensitive, vulnerable and vital parts of the body) and the techniques of verum kai Prayogam (fighting with bare hands). This is the finale of what is usually atleast a decade –long training process.
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