Kathakali: An Enactment of Expressions

Kathakali, derived from the combination of two Sanskrit words “Katha” which means Story and “Kala” meaning Art. In an essence, it describes a recitation of a story through arts and performance.

Considered as the folk dance of Kerala, the roots of Kathakali, though unknown, can be traced back to the early 17th century. A Kathakali performance, like all the classical Indian arts, collaborates music with vocal performances, costumes and facial gestures to express ideas and recite the tales. However, what makes Kathakali stand out among other classical art forms is the elaborate usage of the facial expressions and incorporation of martial art moves in the act.

Kathakali performances take place across Kerala at various places through different organizations and troupes that have kept the beautiful tradition alive. We, at Mastane Musafir, attended one such performance at Punarjani Traditional Village, Munnar. They conduct daily shows in the evening that describe the tales from ancient epics, Upanishads and Puranas.

The Beginning

The show begins at 5 PM in the evening. However, it is always a good option to reach one hour before the show at the venue to grab the best seats in the house in the front row. Another advantage is you can witness the artists put on the make up and get ready for the show.

It is so pleasing to see the efforts these artists put in for a single performance day-in & day-out. The elaborate costumes and facial make-up takes around 45-60 minutes for a seasoned veteran to get into the role.

We were lucky enough to get up close with these performers as they were getting ready for the show. And after watching their efforts, we could just say Hats Off to their dedication and efforts.

The Act

The act or the performance begins with a prayer and offering to the musical instruments, fire God present in the form of lamp and the stage where the performance takes place. We find it very blessed to be born in the country that respects the minute of the minute details when it comes to performing arts.

Next, they explain what the expressions and gestures used by the artists convey and the meaning behind the same. And believe you us, you can easily figure out what they want to convey without the requirement of a translator or interpreter, such is the mastery of the artists, coupled with great background score which compliments the act.

Below are the a few basic gestures used in the performance. Can you guess what they convey without reading the caption below? Give it a try.

Magnum Opus

The final performance is nothing short of Magnum Opus. Each day, the performance depicts a part of the tale from the epics like Ramayan, Mahabharat and Bhagwat Puranas.

The act is a musical melody and a worthy spectacle and it does not need knowledge of a language to understand what the act wants to convey.

The performance we witnessed was a tale from Bhagwat Purana, where in a demoness tries to woo the God using her magical powers and enchantment. The entire performance flows on conversations between the God and the Demoness, and you can feel the exchange of love, charm and anger between the characters, not through words, only expressions and music.

It was our first experience with Kathakali and it went down as a life time memory right from the time the artists were getting ready for the performance to the time they bowed down to the applause from the audience. A must have experience when you visit Kerala, you get to know beautiful things about our beautiful country.