Chakiarkoothu, Koodiyattam,Krishnattamand Ramanattamare few of the ritual performing arts of Kerala which have had a direct influence on Kathakali in its form and technique.
Kathakali is a blend of dance, music and acting and dramatizes stories, which are mostly adapted from the Indian epics.
Kathakali is a visual art whereaharya, costume and make-up are suited to the characters, as per the tenets laid down in theNatya Shastra.
The face of the artist is painted over to appear as though a mask is worn. The lips, the eyelashes and the eyebrows are made to look prominent. A mixture of rice paste and lime is applied to make thechuttion the face which highlights the facial make-up.
The characters in a Kathakali performance are broadly divided intosatvika, rajasika andtamasika types. Satvika characters are noble, heroic, generous and refined.
A large oil-fed lamp is placed in front of the stage and two people hold a curtain calledTirasseelaon the stage, the main dancers stand behind it before the performance.
The technical details cover every part of the body from facial muscles to fingers, eyes, hands and wrists.
The facial muscles play an important part. The movement of the eyebrows, the eye-balls and the lower eye-lids as described in the Natya Shastra are not used to such an extent in any other dance style.
The weight of the body is on the outer edges of the feet which are slightly bent and curved.
Archaeological evidence of this dance form dating back to the 2nd century B.C. is found in the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri near Bhubaneshwar.
With Hinduism taking roots in Orissa by about the 7th century A.D., many imposing temples were erected. The Sun Temple at Konarak, built in the 13th century, with itsNatya mandapor Hall of dance, marks the culmination of the temple building activity in Orissa. These dance movements, frozen in stone, continue to inspire Odissi dancers even today.
Themaharis, who were originally temple dancers came to be employed in royal courts which resulted in the degeneration of the art form. Around this time, a class of boys calledgotipuaswere trained in the art, they danced in the temples and also for general entertainment. Many of today's gurus of this style belong to thegotipuatradition.
The techniques of movement are built around the two basic postures of theChowk(above) and theTribhanga(left). Thechowkis a position imitating a square - a very masculine stance with the weight of the body equally balanced. Thetribhangais a very feminine stance where the body is deflected at the neck, torso and the knees.
With the lower half of the body remaining static, the torso moves from one side to the other along the axis passing through the centre of the upper half of the body. Great training is required for this control so as to avoid any shoulder or hip movement.