Folk Dances of India: Kathakali

Kathakali is a major classical dance form from Ancient India. It is a “story play” of art that includes elaborate, colourful makeup, beautiful mesmerizing costumes and face masks traditionally performed by male dancers. It is a Hindu folk dance performed in the Malayalam speaking southwest region of Kerala. Kathakali is derived from Katha, which means “story or a traditional tale”, and Kalī means “performance or art”.​1​ Kathakali is a long tradition that symbolizes the eternal fight between good and evil. It was given its pres­ent form by Mahakavi Vallathol Narayan Menon, the founder of the Kerala KalaMandalam.

Being a more relatable form of art strikes a chord with the public as it embodies their customs and religions. It involves vigorous and florid movements, stylized gestures and loads of facial expressions. These gestures are broad and robust, and faces are made from face paint which look like masks. The characters of Kathakali express their emotions and the story through songs from the background and their unique loud expressions. Dances rely on hand gestures, known as mudra, to convey the soul of the story.​2,3​ Costumes, makeup and face masks are the most distinguishing features of this classical dance. There are several kinds of costumes including, Sathwika (the hero), Kathi (the villain), Minukku (females), and Thatti.​1​ Each character is easily recognizable by his makeup, costume and mask. This costume consists of a full skirt and heavy jacket with embellished garlands and jewellery.​4​ The musical notes of Kathakali are similar to the traditional classical music of South India; however, the instruments used are different. Chenda, idakka, and shuddha madalam are the most common instruments used.​3​ It leaves a spellbound experience to its viewers and performs epic Indian ancient folklore with the most intricate and mesmerizing movements.

Kathakali combines drama, dance, music, storytelling, costumes, makeup and devotion into a divided experience. It brings humanity into Hinduism and expresses emotions beyond words.​2​ These temple rituals have evolved into a vibrant drama that encircles the essence of being a human. It provides a spectacle to live and an opportunity to view the ancient lifestyle and heritage preserved for centuries.​5​ This theatre has now reached the doors of the most powerful forms of storytelling in the world theatre and unlocked appreciation for Indians worldwide. Kathakali unlocked the mystery of the Sanskrit poems and made them accessible to the broader community.

Independent Project by Sezal Chug
Guide: Prof Manohar Khushalani

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    background kathakali. kathakali.

Folk Dances of India: Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi is one of the major Indian classical dance folk forms performed in India. It derives its name from its village of origin, Kuchelapuram and is one of the favourite dance forms of Lord Krishna.​1​ It is considered to be a form of dance-drama that is well known under the generic name of Yakshagaana. Similar to other dance forms, Kuchipudi has its roots that originated from Sanskrit Natya Shastra, the foundations of performing arts.

In the 17th century, Yakshagana created by Siddhendra Yogi, a talented Vaishnava poet whose inspiration for the art form is said to have come from Lord Krishna in a dream.​2​ He had a dream in which Lord Krishna came and asked him to compose a dance-drama based on the myth of the bringing of paarijaata flower for Sathyabhaama, the most beloved queen of Krishna. It led to the creation of Bhaamaakalaapam, which Yogi composed and is still practised in different parts of the world.​2​ The disciples of Siddhendra Yogi have written several plays, which are performed and celebrated to date.

Kuchipudi is known for its fast rhythms and fluid movements, creating a blend of delicacy and strength. In this dance form, a male dancer usually wears an Agnivastra, which included a dhoti, whereas a female dance wears a sari. Modern Kuchipudi acquired its pres­ent form in the 20th century. Several people were responsible for moving it from the villages to the performance stage. One of the most notable was guru Lakshminarayan Shastry.

Traditionally, all males performed Kuchipudi until a colonial-era when Lakshminarayana revolutionized the concepts of this art form. He introduced females to the art form, along with the idea of solo-dancing.​3​ After him, many other visionaries have moulded it into its pres­ent shape.

In today time, the concepts laid out by Lakshminarayana have cemented their place in our minds for eternity. The Kuchipudi performance is accompanied by a live orchestra comprising of singing and percussions. The hand gestures, also called mudras and facial expressions, are stylized to convey a wide range of complex sentiments and feelings.​2​ The whole body is responsible for communicating the emotions which arise from the song.

Kuchipudi has for sure occupied a special place among other Indian classical dance forms by being a country-wide celebrated dance folk form and is recognized worldwide in many international traditional festivals.

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    Kalakendram K. Kairali Kalakendram. Asha Sharath .

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    Classical Dances I. Indian Classical Dances. Indian Culture Study Material .

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    Ballet D. Shantala Shivalingappa. Danza Ballet.

Part of an Independent Research Project by: Sezal Chugh / Guide: Prof. Manohar Khushalani