An ancient colourful performing art. This is a 'must do'. Go an hour before the show to watch the transformation of the artists while doing their make-up. The show then consits of 2 parts. The first part gives a background of kathakali and also explain many of the movements and expressions used. The second part is a performance of kathakali. The Cochin Cultural Centre is an airconditioned venue which was great.
You can take photographs during make-up and the show.
Ticket costs 300Rs, and the show lasts for about an hour.
It is Kerala's very own, much celebrated dance drama. Kathakali evolved in the 8th century from 'Ramanattam' a dance drama created by Kottarakkara Thampuran, a great admirer and promoter of traditional art forms. Kathakali draws its theme from the wealth of Indian mythology and folklore. The performer is assisted by vocal and percussion accompaniments while the dancer through 'hasta mudras' or hand gestures expounds the theme. Expressions of face and eyes hold the key to perfection. Unique among the Indian dance forms, Kathakali ranks high among the Indian dance forms. Noted for its archaic costumes, weird make up, the elaborately painted faces often mistaken for masks and grand headgears, Kathakali is perhaps the only dance form in India in which the masculine aspect of the dance is preserved in its elemental vigor.
Some of the noted Kathakali centres in Kochi are India Foundation located at Kalathiparambil Road, near the Ernakulam Junction Railway station where the daily show begins at 6.45 p.m., the Cochin Cultural Centre situated at Manikath Road, behind Medical Trust Hospital where the daily show begins at 7 pm, Art Kerala situated at Kannanthodathu lane, Valanjambalam and one may also catch the exotic shows of the dance at Kerala Kathakali Centre functions at Fort Cochin near the Chinese Fishing Nets.
Time to attend a Kathakali (literally meaning story-play) dance demonstration.
It is a unique art in which legend and mythology come to life. Generally the students of the Kathakali start at the age of 10-12, the elaborate training in it, which lasts for about 8 years and consists of intense physical exercises and a prolounged course of instruction in footwork, body movements, eye movements, hand gestures facial portrayal of emotions, etc. (see demonstration on the picture)
Make up in Kathakali, a very elaborate process, takes a long time to be complete before an actor is ready to appear before the audience. Along with the peculiar and gorgeous costumes, the make up gives an ultra terrestrial effect to the characters represented in the Kathakali.
Be there one hour before the show starts and you'll witness this very important part of the Kathakali performance.
The Kathakali dance is probably one of the most complex dances in the world when it involved all the facial (especially eyes and mouth), body expression to tell the story. Often time, they will spend more than 2-3 minutes just to express one line of scripts. The training for act, music, singing will often take 6-10 years to master.
Although you can see the Kathakali dance many places within the Kelara state, but nothing beat the one at Cochin. It looks like the only activity from 6pm-8:30pm where all the tourists (include me) will be walking to the same direction. That is to the Kathakali Centre.
The make up session and introduction of Kathakali expression & music session is very key for you to understand the play. You will be distribute with a simple scripts that hardly 2 page length, but will take more than an hour to play those scenes.
Generally stories from the great epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are taken for Kathakali performance. Ours was Kiratham : Arjuna's quest for the divine Pasupathasthram to be gotten from Lord Siva after much penance and then only after his ego is crushed.
OK, you probably won't get lucky and catch an all-night Kathakali performance at the local temple, like I did. But do not shun the 'made-for-tourists' one-hour shows. You will get an idea of the music, the makeup and the theatre involved (Kathakali is much more mime than what we think of as dance), and for this impressive an art form, even a quick introduction is better than nothing.
Kathakali is the most widely-recognized of Kerala's many traditional dance forms. It is a combination of Literature (Sahithyam), Music (Sangeetham), Painting (Chithram), Acting (Natyam), and Dance (Nritham). The performers wear detailed makeup and elaborate costumes. The performances are based on themes from Hindu mythology. Kathakali performers do not speak. They use only (24) hand gestures and a series of nine facial expressions, also known as Navarasam, to enact the stories from the epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The nine Navarasam are: Love, Comedy, Pity, Furious, Heroic, Fearful, Disgust, Wonder, and Peace.
For the performers, his hands are his words and his face and his eyes are his emotions. The makeup is more like a mask than traditional make-up. The four colors of makeup used are white, deep red, black, and green. The red is made from vermilion, the black from soot, and the white from rice flour. The colors are used to portray characters as well as for decoration. For example, red on the feet is used to symbolize evil character and intent.
The costumes - heavy and large - are the most distinctive characteristics of the dance. Each character in Kathakali is instantly recognizable by their makeup and costume. There are several types of costumes including: Kathi (the villain), Minukku (females), Sathwika (the hero), and Thatti. The performers also wear large head dresses (Kireedam) where the contours of the face are extended with molded lime.
Although there are many places to catch a performance we saw a Kathakali Dance at the Kathakali Centre, one of the most famous theaters in South India. The daily performances are 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. with ample opportunity to watch and photograph makeup application from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. I'd recommend reserving tickets in advance and arriving by 5:00 p.m.
IMO, the two must-do(s) in Kerala/Kochi are a backwater boat trip and a Kathakali Dance performance! Fascinating!