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Kathakali is one of the classical forms of performing art of India. It has originated and flourished in the state of Kerala. Kathakali is held in high esteem by connoisseurs and aficionados for its structural refinement and technical versatility.

Kathakali has basically four components for its system of acting. They are hand gestures (Angikam), emotive expressions of the face and total body acting (Satwikam), oral expression by way of music (Vachikam) and decorative and symbolic costumes and elaborate facial make-up (Aharyam).
 Dance, stylised mime, music and
percussion form the essential elements of performance. For all these individual components, the structure, technique and practice are rigidly based on highly intricate and artistically stylised functional rules. The system has attained a state of perfection after its evolution during the past more than three centuries.

Kathakali uses versified text as the basis for performance, which is rendered in the form of traditional music by two musicians, who are also present on the stage in their civil costume along with the performer. Moreover, the senior musician functions also as the stage manager. The music is supported by the application of two percussion instruments called “chenda” and “maddalam”. Both are wooden drums with animal skin ends. The musicians use brass cymbals for overall control of time and movements.

The dancer conveys the consistent and transient moods of the situation and the characters by the effective use of facial expressions, body acting and dance sequences. He never speaks on the stage. His miming and hand gesticulations are stylised, symbolic and occasionally abstract in nature, rather than being realistic. His foot-work, hand gestures and body movements are perfectly timed and synchronised and they form individual parts of a composite dynamic structure. It may also be mentioned here that Kathakali performance is an exclusive domain of male artists. The tempo of music and percussion are made to vary to suit and to supplement the mood being enacted. Kathakali has often been described as a complete theatre with all theatrical aspects finding an expression in its performance.

The script for a conventional Kathakali performance is invariably based on the Hindu mythology with rare exceptions in the recent times where episodes from Greek or Christian mythology and even Shakespeare have been attempted with varying degrees of success. But, it should be stressed here that, the theme is only an excuse or a vehicle for Kathakali, because what it attempts is to convey a purely sensory experience where the eye and the ear play a major role.

Watching a Kathakali performance is an invigorating experience for the seasoned as well as for uninitiated, because it has the inherent capability to convey in ample measure the basic artistic essence to the human mind. Kathakali, unlike the Western Ballet, aims at vanquishing the limitations of space with the aid of its control over time. And it, indeed, accomplishes its objective in a most marvelous manner.

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