Kerala Kalamandalam
Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Performing Arts

Internationally famous Kerala Kalamandalam is some 32 km north of Thrissur in the village of Cheruthuruthy . It is the state's flagship training shool for indigenous performing arts.

The academy was founded in 1927 by the revered Kerala poet Vallathol(1878-1957). At first patronized by the Raja of Cochin, it has since benefited from funding from both state and national governments. The academy has been instrumental in the large-scale revival of interest in kathakali dance of Kerala and other unique Keralan art froms.

Despite coservative opposition, the college has always followed an open-door recruitment policy. The admission based on artistic merit than religious affilation. The school produces "Muslim and Christian graduates along the usual Hindu castes-something that was once unimaginable.

All comers are welcome to attend performaces of Kerala Kathakali, Koodiyattam and Mohiniyattam performed in the shchool's wonderful theatre. The theatre replicates the style of the wooden, sloping-roofed traditional koottambalam audiitoria found in Kerala temples.

"A Day with the Masters"

Siging up for the fascinating "A day with the masters" cultural programme (Mon-Sat 9.30am-1.30pm) is really worthy. You can sit in the classes,watch demonstrations of mural-painting and mask-making and see exhibitions of costumes. The fees include lunch. Always book in advance.

Try to time your visit to coincide with the annual, week-long Thauryathrikam festival in January. Held at the koothambalam auditorium and at Kalamandalam's original riverside campus among the trees. The free event presents all the art forms taught at the academy.

A short walk past the old school building leads to a small but exquisite Shiva temple in classic Kerala style. The exterior is lit by candles during the early everning puja, a particularly rewarding time to visit.

Note that phoptgraphy is not allowed anywhere in the Kalamandalam without a photography permit. The cost of the "a day with the masters" tour includes the photo free.

Learning at Kalamandalam

A handful of foreigners also come to the Kalamandalam academy to study. The courses offered are one-month introductions, three to six-month intensives, and full vocational training from four to six years. You can apply from abroad, but it is best to visit first and make a decision, as the trainging is rigorous.

Apart from dance, percussion classes in the great chenda, maddalam, mizhavu, thimila and mridangam drums are also held. The Kalaris(classroom) are places where the visitor witness the devotion that defines the Kalamanadalam's deserved reputation. Years of ceaseless learing turn a student into a master. For the much respected title every aritst desires is to prefix 'Kalamandalam' to his name.

Kerala Kalamandalam

Deemed University for Art and Culture
Tel: +91 4884 262418, 262526

Kathakali and Kalamandalam

Kalamandalam is the most importnat academy for teaching Kathakali dance Kerala India. Kalamandalam contributes a lot to the revival of Kathakali and to make it a world renowned art form. Most of the famous Kathakali artists are trained at Kalamandalam.

Origin of Kathakali

Ask any travel-savvy poeple about the most enduring image of Kerala, and chances are they'll say 'kathakali'. And with good reason too-this amazing dance is Kerala personified.

It is derived from a range of local performing arts such as koodiyattam, krishnanattam and kalarippayattu. Colourful, vivid and vibrant, kathakali combines elements of dance, opera,pantomime and masque in a mind-blowing performance. It used to represent tales and myths from the Hindu epics and the Puranas.

The youngest of the classical forms and one of the most refined pantomime dance-drama, Kathakali probably is one of the most colourful and recognisable dances of India. It is much about the make-up as about the costume, experessions, dialogues and the story. Kathakali lterally means 'story performance'.

Writings about Kathakali

There are those who trace its oringins to Ramanattam, librettos penned by Kottayath Thampuran, based on Rama's life as described in the Ramayana.

For many Kathakali is reminisent of the Masque dances of Europe, like pipular writer David Bolland, who in his book A Guide to Kathakali wrote,

"Kathakali, as we now see it, dates back to about the time that Shakespeare was writing his plays. The performance given in Malabar at that time by troupes of actors who were formed by and enjoyed the patronage of the local Rajas and other noblemen (especially the Namboothirs, or Brahmins of Malabar) must in many ways have been similar to Masque which were in vogue."

Over the years, kathakali dance India incorporate many elements from various dance forms in Kerala, between the 2nd and 16th centuries.

Features of Kathakali

The basic-and most visible-feature of kathakali is the elaborate make-up and costume of the performers. The makeup for a kathakali performer can take an hour or more to be applied.The make-up mainly consists of five seperate elements, each of which signifies a distinct characteristic.

  1. Pacha vesham (green) signifies nobility.

  2. Kari vesham (black) designates a she-demon.

  3. Kathi vesham ('knife') with red and black streaks on the face, plus a white spot on the nose-signs of a villain.

  4. Thadi (beard) differntly coloured beards sginify different characters-evil, superhuman or hunters.

  5. Minukku ('prettying up') used for sages and for female characters.

Besides makeup, kathakali is characterized by elaborate costumes-outsized headdress, jackets and voluminous skirts worn over padded cushions.

A kathakali performance commences at dusk, invariably on a temple stage, with the beating of drums and the striking of gongs. What follows over the next few hours is something an onlooker can never forget-a dance-drama accompanied by a full-fledged orchestra.

A vivid display of gestures and facial experessions. A brillinatly choreographed performance of an epic, a traditional paly, an ancient legend. A performance that is an institution in itself.

Kerala Kalamandalam is the place you should visit if you want to know more Kathakali and art forms of Kerala.

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