|Classical Dance Forms of India|
From the coastal strip that is Kerala come perhaps the most dramatic and spiritual dance forms of India - Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Krishna Attam, Thiruvathirakkali, Thullal, Theyyam, Chakyar Koothu, Koodiyattam and Padayani. In addition, the martial art of Kalaripayattu - incorporated into much modern dance and almost a dance style in its inherent grace and feeling - also derives from this region.
It is thought that the comparative isolation of Kerala has fostered the deep belief that makes its indigenous performing arts so unique - and so profoundly influenced by religion and local spiritual beliefs. From the 6th century or so, new religions were introduced to the area, with Jainism, Buddhism and Brahminism colouring existing ways of thought and rituals. Temple construction gained in popularity at this time; the courtyards and halls of these holy structures were ideal arenas (or koothambalams) for performances. New languages, too, increased the scope of the art forms, and gave dancers new material to work with and interpret in their own special style.
Kathakali shows its primitive roots perhaps more than any other style. As all the other forms of dance from the state - except perhaps for Mohiniattam - it is extremely dramatic, more aharyabhinaya, with the use of elaborate stage sets, costumes, masks and dialogue. The gestures are exaggerated, almost grotesque, and non-professional dancers often get so carried away by their characterisations that they go into a trance and begin to believe they ARE their characters - the audience, too, may be similarly influenced.
The performance may last all night long, set in a village clearing, lit by flaming torches, the eyes of the onlookers glittering in the firelight, beliefs closer to their primitive roots than in any other setting. The dancers start their make-up hours earlier, the masks not tied on plates of papier mache, but a special gesso painstakingly built up layer by delicate layer. There are stereotypes: the hero has a green face, the villain a black one; the good guys always win, the bad guys die a ghastly, gory, graphic death; the hero gets the heroine and everyone who lives, lives happily ever after.
the Kathakali performance centres around the life and adventures of Lord
Rama and is sung-recited-expounded in Sanskrit, now often with Malayalam
adding local flavour to poetry derived from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata
and the Puranas. The musicians follow the character they are focussing on
around the stage with sometimes hilarious traffic snarls. And Kathakali
has also gone global, with performances of The Ilead, Medea and other
dramatic works, translated into chaste Sanskrit or Malayalam.