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Arts & Culture

Kathakali
 
Kerala is known the world over by its own  performing art form, the  Kathakali. "Katha" means story and "Kali" stands for dance. It is a beautiful mix of dance, drama and music that the connoisseurs of art world qualified as 'a total art form of immense sophistication and power'. This is a form of dance formerly confined only to the festival stages in temples. The late Mahakavi (great poet) Vallathol Narayana Menon took special interest in the art, brought it out of the temples, exploited its antiquity and, by unstinted efforts, swept the opera stages all over the world, bagging great deal of goodwill for Kerala and Malayalees. It is a mime show, dancing with mudras (formulated hand gestures conveying the text of lyrics) and specialised dancing steps following the song rendered in the background by a singer to the accompaniment of Chenda, Maddalam (country drums), Chenkila and Elathalam (Cymbals). Face painted green and made up with spot of sacred sandal paste on the brow, eye-lined with mascara, lip toned by cherry and white chin mask, the dancer dons a colourful costume and rich and impressive crown and jewellery. A traditional pedestal Nilavilakku (oil lamp) with sixty wicks on both sides lit together lights the dancing floor. There are four types of make up. 

Pachcha (green) face painted green and don sober and beautiful attires denoting the godly or virtuous character. Thadi (beard);  divided into Chuvanna Thadi (red beard) depicting aggressive and demoniac characters, Karutha Thadi (black beard) depicting aborigines, cavemen and foresters and Vella Thadi (white beard) representing Rishis, Saints, Preceptors and other intellectuals. Kari (carbon black) representing mean characters and Minukku (refined) presenting women and Brahmins.
 
Mohiniyattom 
  
The sinuous dance of the  enchantress, this is a distinctive classical dance form of Kerala. Slow, graceful, swaying movements of the body and limbs and highly emotive eye and hand gestures are unique to this dance form. The simple, elegant gold-filigreed dress, in pure white or ivory, is akin to the traditional attire of the women of Kerala. The origin of Mohiniyattom is rooted in Hindu mythology. Once the ocean of milk was churned by the gods and demons to extract the elixir of life and immortality. The demons made away with this divine brew.

Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the panicky gods and assumed the female form of an amorous celestial dame Mohini. Captivating the demons with her charms, Mohini stole the elixir from them and restored it to the gods. This dance was adopted by the Devadasi or temple dancers, hence also the name 'Dasiattam' which was very popular during the Chera reign from 9th to 12th century.
 
Kootiyattom
 
Kootiyattam literally means "acting together". This is the earliest classical dramatic art form of Kerala. Based on Sage Bharatha's 'Natyasasthra' who lived in the second century, Kootiyattam evolved in the 9th century AD.

Kootiyattam is enacted inside the temple theatre, there are two or more characters onstage at the same time, with the Chakkiars providing the male cast and the Nangiars playing the female roles. The Nangiars beat the cymbals and recite verses in Sanskrit, while in the background Nambiars play the Mizhavu, a large copper drum.

Vidushaka or the wise man, a figure parallel to the Fool in Shakespearean plays, enacts his role with the liberty to criticise anyone without fear. The costume of the jester sets him apart from the rest. The Kootiyattam performance lasts for several days ranging from 6 to 20 days. Themes are based on mythology.

The Koodal Manickyam temple at Irinjalakkuda and the Vadakkumnatha temple at Thrissur are the main centres where Kootiyattam is still performed annually. Ammannoor Madhava Chakkiar is an unrivalled maestro of this rare art.
 
Bharatanatyam
  
Classical dance form originated in Tamil Nadu, performed & praciced in Kerala also.

Bharata Natyam is poetry in motion. Tracing its hoary origins in the Natya Shastra, written by the great sage, Bharata, it is a highly traditional and stylized dance form. 

Crystallized in the castiron mould of Bharata’s technique, this art form grossily disallows new-fangled innovations or gimmicks except in repertoire and forms of presentation. 

Emerging far back in the labyrnthine twists of ancient history (as information for the date conscious, 4000 B.C. is the ascribed date to the Natya Shastra), Bharatanatyam has been immortalized in successive generations, as much by the sinuous grace of great dancers as by the nimble fingers of renowned sculptors who have demonstrated the perfection of Bharata’s technique in the flowing lines of temple sculptures.

Its present form was evolved by the Tanjore quartet namely Poniah Pillai and brothers. Earlier variedly known as Dasi Attam and Sadir, it was practised by Devadasis of the South Indian temples. It went into disrepute due to economic and social conditions and it was Rukmini Devi who gave it new life and respectability. 

Its format consists of Alarippu (invocation), Jathi Swaram (note combinations), Shabdam (notes and lyrics), Varnam (a combination of pure dance and abhinaya), lighter items like Padams and Javalis (all erotic) and finally the thillana (again pure dance). On par with Rukmini Devi, there was Bala Saraswati, the queen of Bharata Natyam.
  
Ottanthullal
  
Among the classical performing arts of Kerala, Thullal is distinct for its simplicity of presentation, wit and humour. It follows the classical principles of Natyasasthra (a treatise on art compiled in the 2nd century B.C). Ottanthullal is the most popular among its three varieties. The other two are Seethankan and Parayan Thullal.

Thullal is a solo performance combining dance and recitation of stories in verse. Staged during temple festivals, the performer explicates the verses through expressive gestures. Themes are based on mythological stories.

Thullal was introduced in the 18th century by the famous Malayalam poet Kunchan Nambiar. Humour, satire and social criticism are the hallmarks of this art form. The Thullal dancer is accompanied by a singer who repeats the verses. The orchestra consists of the Mridangam or the Thoppi Maddalam and a pair of cymbals.

Costumes: The make up, though simple, is very much akin to that of Kathakali. The actor wears a long tape of white and red coloured clothes looped around the waist-string to form a knee-long skirt. His chest-piece is adorned by various coloured beads, glass and tinsel, and other ornaments. The face is painted green, lips, red and the eyes emphasised with black paint. The headgear is colourful and richly decorated.
  
Kalarippayattu
 
It is a form of martial arts practised by Hindus. The available historical evidences date it back to the 12th Century and historians believe that it is the oldest form of martial art in the world. Probably, it is the source of the world famous Karate of Japan. 'Kalari' is a school of martial arts derivative of the Sanskrit word 'Kholoorika' meaning military training centre and 'payattu' the fight. There were Kalaris strewn around the state which are recognized by the Government as the official training centres for new recruits in the armed force.

The instruction and practical training in this art is imparted inside the Kalari, a specially constructed hall with ample space of fighting floor with idols of all the presiding deities of the art and photographs of the entire lineage of Gurus. The idols and Gurus are worshipped before the beginning of the practice with all rituals and singing of hymns as in a temple. The master reverently addressed as 'Gurukkal' is deemed the representative of the God of war and the present link with the long line of Gurus gone deified into the back of beyond. 

The pupils are trained in self-discipline and physical culture. Before the pupils are initiated into the techniques of warfare, their bodies are toned pliable, agile and versatile by regular massage by feet and hands with medicated oil. Then taught to wield Kuruvadi (short sticks), spear, dagger, sword, shield, etc. The last and sophisticated piece in the weaponry is 'Urumi' a thin springy three-meter long double edged sword worn around the waist locked like a belt drawn unwound in a flick of a moment when required. It is highly lethal for an adept wielder can aim it to swirl around the neck of the opponent and, at the slightest jerk, the head will roll on the floor of the arena. 

Flying feats, daring onslaughts and dodging with dexterity are the ways in combat. Defensive and offensive strikes with lightning speed are its peculiarity. There are customarily eighteen 'adavu' (tricks) in this warfare. Seventeen, fighting with all the weapons one by one, the eighteenth being 'Poozhikkadakan', a feat producing a cover of whirlwind of dust around the combatant by stamping the earth and swift circular movement to camouflage him from the opponent and to take him by surprise with sudden retaliatory deathblow.
 
Chavittunadakam
  
A Christian dance drama developed exclusively in Kerala as a counterpart of Kathakali enacted in Hindu temples. Unlike other performing arts, this drama is presented on a raised platform made of planks spread on skeleton wood structure. Actors don in colourful Roman attires enacts stories from Bible with rich dialogues and songs to the accompaniment of beating of country drums. The predominant feature of this art is the artistes stamping (Chavittu) the dance floor producing resonant sounds to accentuate the dramatic situations.