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The Art of Kathakali

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Item Code: IMD02
Author: G. Avinash and C. Pandeya
Publisher: Shubhi Publications, Gurgaon
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 8121508983
Pages: 240 (B & W Illus: 28, Figures: 29)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.8" X 7.5"
Weight 660 gm
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Book Description

About the Book:

Kathakali literally meaning "story-dance" is the pantomimic dance-drama of Malabar comparable to a great extent with the European ballet in the West with an additional advantage of having rich gestural code necessary to convey the theatrical pleasures to the spectator.

This book is a detailed analysis of the dance and art of Kathakali, its origin, technique, the costume, make-up and the gestural code, with a separate chapter on "Evolution of Kerala's Art" by Krishna Chaitanya.

This edition has been completely revised and enlarged and contains new set of illustrations to further facilitate understanding and appreciation of the Art.


IN making a critical study of the art and dance of Kathakali, the ancient dance-drama of Kerala, Gayanacharya Avinash C. Pandey a has produced this comprehensive book of an unparalleled nature. I feel no less pleasure than great honour that I am invi- ted to express a few words on it.

So far none has dealt with this subject in any language so elaborately and so systematically as this young authority on Indian music and dancing has. He has presented the entire technical subtlety in a lucid style making it to rank as the first book on Kathakali literature, dance and art. Its authenticity as the first today and the first tomorrow shall ever guide all dancers, students, commentators and contemporaries of all ages.

The book deals with the origin of Kathakali, its art and dance, rasas and costume and make-up, and gestural code; and makes wide study on the origin of Mudras-their permutation and combi- nation. The interesting chapter on its mime-make-up and cos- tume-vividly reinforces the intricacy and artistical development which this kala gained within a short evolutionary period of a little over 200 years.

The writer has taken great pains in tracing out those neglected pieces of this art which were hitherto unknown and unmined. While dealing with hand poses in use in Kathakali, Gayanacharya has tabulated the connotation of groups of ideas which each mudra represents. It will help considerably all dancers to remember various expressions express able by them.

Kathakali is "an interpretative dance-drama to the accompani- ment of music." The highly specialised form of pantomimic representation makes this art to depict the actual life of our gods and people.

While tracing the origin of Kathakali, the author has made an interesting survey of those human factors which can contribute in the evolution of dance. Guided by regional effects, habit, custom, and tradition, Gayanacharya believes that Kathakali has taken its birth to connote "poetry in their (dancers) figures." The wide appeal of sentiments and emotions helps the Kathakali actor to depict an object or a thought in alively and realistic colour. The author has been successful in giving the basis and importance of the use of various colours in Kathakali make-ups. The unique feature of the book lies in the discussion and analysis of "Kathakali Dance Exercises" and the" Talas used in Kathakali" I ts practical utility has been enriched and enhanced by these.

The work presents a scholarly exposition of every art of Kathakali and is an invaluable companion with everyone interested in matters Kathakali. It is the first authoritative work in my opinion.

Preface To First Edition

IT has always been difficult for man to realise that his life is all art. Man is the measure of all things, of those which exist, and of those which have no existence. It is here that man visualises the Infinite in the process of the self-expression through the Beauty of ature-the Aesthetic Emotion. He, thus, develops a nature and makes it dance in an ecstatic gait to exhibit the Spiritual Life in the Physical manifestation of the Life Eternal.

Love is reality as experienced by the lover, truth is reality as the philosopher experiences, and so is beauty "reality" through the artiste's angle of vision ; and are not these the three phases of the Absolute? The Indian philosopher firmly believes that the absolute Beauty (rasa, aesthetic emotion and sentiment) exists in the same manner as the votary conceives the existence of the absolute goddess and the absolute Truth. These feelings of Love, Truth and Beauty inflame the heart of man; he makes gestures, pantomimic in their form but powerful in their expression of thought. It is the "dance" -the dance of life-the eternal dance-the dance that leads life to worship God to attain salvation.

The Unmai Vilakkam, vs. 32-37-39, mention:
"The Supreme Intelligence dances in the soul...for the purpose of removing our sins. By these means, our Father scatters the darkness of illusion (maya) , burns the thread of causality (karma), stamps down evil (mala, anava, avidya), showers Grace, and lovingly plunges the Soul in the Ocean of Bliss (anand). They never see rebirths, who behold this mystic dance."

The cosmic dance of Siva is the manifestation of man's Rhythmic Life-"of His Rhythmic Playas the Source of all Move- ment within the Cosmos" -which is released of all Illusions. This Life is the Centre of Universe, i.e., God within the heart.

Kathakali makes a marvellous survey of the Absolute through the physical manifestation of aesthetics. It is an 'art of feeling expressed through emotions, gestures and mudras (hand poses). It is here that this art excels all other dance arts in India, except the Bharat Natyam to which it owes its existence.

The revival of dancing in India during recent years, though began in a much sophisticated manner, was due to some professionals who were struggling for their existence. Frequent visits of Western dancers, like Ragini, La Marie, Anna Pavalova, etc., induced young educated Indian men and women, who had an innate desire or instinct to learn this art, to exploit the dormant culture of their nation and to awaken their latent faculties for the ultimate promotion of their well-being. Uday Shankar, Ram Gopal, Natraj Vashi, Rukmini and Sadhana Bose are among the brilliant exponents of the ancient schools of dancing. Gopi Nath, the Palace Dancer of Travancore, is the "real" scholar of the art of Kathakali, the mimetic. dance of Malabar. It is the genius of Uday Shankar that he has introduced originality in his dances: Mahakavi Vallathol equally stands in originality in Kathakali.

The present work is the first attempt in English to elucidate the subtleties of the Kathakali dance-drama. So far none has made a comprehensive survey of its various aspects. All the avail- able material on this subject is insufficient to give an authoritative interpretation of its elaborate technique. One has to go deep in the art of the actor while staging some play.

The growth of this dance-drama, with a full investigation 0 the historical background of its evolution and also of the development in the formation and usage of hand poses, has been discussed at length. The costume and make-up have a different adaptation at different occasions. Special attention has been given to' the make- up of characters, because Kathakali especially draws its magni- ficence from it. Aesthetic emotions and sentiments, as an essential accessory of the dance, have been fully discussed. Other useful information, like the Kathakali stage, musical instruments, etc., are given in Appendices.

The material for this work has been drawn mostly from palm- leaf manuscripts kept in His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore Palace Library, Department of Archaeology (Travancore) publi- cations and other contemporary writings. My own experience in this art has polished the entire theme.

In preparing this book I am benefited considerably by several persons to whom I am highly indebted. In particular, my revered friend, Mr. R. V. Poduval, B. A., Director of Archaeology (Travan- core), helped me a lot by lending me some of his departmental manuscripts and publications. My Personal Assistant, Mr. Abdul Rahman Ghaznavi, laboured much in collecting material for this work, and I am beholden to him for this. I am obliged to my teacher, Dr. D. Pant, B. Com., Ph.D. (T. C. D.) of the University of Lucknow, for reading the original manuscript. I am thankful to my younger brothers, Dr. Santosh Chandra Pandeya and Dr. . Satish Chandra Pandeya, for sketching the illustrations appearing in this book. My thanks are also due to Mr. Uday Shankar whose sketch of the "Rhythm .of Life" is included in the chapter on the "Kathakali Dance Exercises". I acknowledge the courtesy' of Rajkumar Shree Prabhatdevji Rana of Dharampur and Mr. Rajendra Shankar in offering me, directly and indirectly, their invaluable assistance. Mr. A. S.' Bhatnagar kindly helped me in preparing the Index.

I am grateful to Sri Gopi Nath, Palace Dancer, Travancore, for his kind Foreword to the book. As the greatest artiste of the time, he will ever behold the cause of Kathakali.

I must express my heartfelt gratitude and indebtedness to our illustrious Maharaja, His Highness Maharana Shree Vijayadevji Rana, Maharaja Saheb of Dharampur, who has graciously given an Introduction to this book. Doubtless, as a great exponent and critic of art he is, he shall live for all times.

Preface To Second Edition

IF an art is true, it reflects the innermost ecstacies of a people in a sympathetic and symbolic but eloquent form. A Kathakali dance-drama is just the manifestation of the life of the people of Kerala. And so it is superb.

In completing the present work, the basic traits of the people of Kerala were studied to reach to the deep roots of Kathakali. The success has been remarkable, for the study revealed, for instance, the reason for the difference between the formation of certain hand poses used in Kathakali and mentioned in Sanskrit texts. In the light of fresh experiences, therefore, most of the chapters have been re-written; a few are added. The most significant chapter is on the literary aspect of Kathakalis. Appendices have been rehashed. The first edition of the book was exhausted within a few months of its publication in 1943. A reprint could not follow: Engrossed in political work, I could hardly find time to revise it. Later, post-partition uncertainties stood in the way. The second edition was deferred in this way to a more favourable time. In the meantime, I received repeated requests from the Publishers and numerous readers for a fresh edition. I trust the readers would now no longer feel a vacuum in the literature on this spectacular dance form of India.

Reviewers of the first edition have been kind; and, for their information, I may briefly make a few observations. The art, theory and philosophy of Indian dance are intimately woven round Lord Siva-also known as Nataraj. Whether it is Bharat Natyam, Kathakali, Manipuri or Bharat Nritya (miscalled Kathak), homage to Siva is common and universal. Lord Krsna figures as the symbol of worship, but He too was Siva's disciple, learning the dance erotic at his feet. Siva, whose philosophy is the very existence of man, cannot be dissociated from any art form. The present work is the presentation of every art of Kathakali.

A reference to the principles enunciated in the Bharat Natya Sastra (as distinct from Bharat Natyam) has been necessary. Bharat Natya Sastra is an authoritative and parental treatise on the laws and rules of Indian dancing. Bharat Natyam and Kathakali are two different arts, but the Sastra is the basic code on which the art in both the forms of dancing has been developed.

A book on art has its own limitations. The function and object of literature is only to furnish information and not to train one to perfection. Art to a gifted person is spontaneous. To others the need of a teacher is essential. Even to the gifted one, guidance is necessary.

This book, as is acclaimed by all critics, is full of essential information on the Kathakali dance-drama. A close study of Kathakali performances will, however, enrich one's knowledge.

I am thankful to many friends for the assistance they have rendered in completing the revision. In particular, my grati- tudes are due to the help of Guru Gopi Nath, who has now started a dance school at Madras; to Sri K. K. air (Krishna Chaitanya), Information Officer, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, for writing the concluding chapter, summing up the book and reflecting on the growth, aesthetics and the artistic and literary nuances of Kathakali and for loaning his colour transparen- cies; and to Sri R. P. Dhamija, Feature Writer, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, for lending several colour trans- parencies and black and white stills. Shri J. K. Gupta kindly helped me in preparing the typescript.


LIFE in itself is a composition of arts, peculiar to its own measures.

There is in every living creature an instinct to make one or the other movement of the body which a dancer calls "gesture". Gesticulating, he recalls to memory the sacred life of the great Hindu avatars (incarnations) and the people. To him, dancing lies at the root of all processes towards bhakti (worship and devotion) and attainment of salvation. He visualises creation of the universe as a result of the ecstatic dance of Brahma, the Creator. He ascribes every kriya (action) of God to a creative dance in which man forms the minutest dancing atom. Every human action, as that of an animal, has a direct command of the soul and that action is termed dainik nrtya (every-day dance). The existence of the supreme power of the abstract life, or, of God, in every kriya of the living being in a latent form helps in developing the various dynamic forces of the human nature, and the awakening of these forces leads man to "dance".

Nrtya is the outcome of five kriyas of God, viz., srsti, or, Avirbhava (Universe or creation), Isthiti (Preservation or Protection), Samhara (Destruction), Tirobhava (Veiling, Embodiment, Illusion or Giving Rest) and Anugraha (Release or Salvation). These subjective and objective actions, in turn, are the different forms of Brahma, Visnu, Rudra, Mahesvara and Sadasiva. "In the night of Brahma, Nature is inert, and cannot dance till Siva wills it; He rises from His rapture and dancing sends through matter pulsing waves of awakening sound, and lo! matter also dances appearing as a glory round about Him."

Siva, the greatest of all our deities, is depicted in the cosmic pose of a dancer who perpetually stands for an image of reality and truth, the keys to the complex and complicated tissues of human life and lives in general, which form an independent theory of Nature, not simply satisfactory and adaptable to a single clique, race, or nation, nor acceptable or worthy of consideration to the philosopher, thinker, and worshipper of one century only, but universal in its appeal to the votary, the worshipper, the mediator, the philosopher, the thinker, the lover, the gametic and the artist of all ages and all countries.

The four significant actions of Lord Siva connote that the universe is created, protection is granted, release is offered and destruction is undertaken, all at the will of God : The drum stands for creation, fire for destruction, protection proceeds from the hand of hope, the foot held aloft gives release.

Of all the arts, the art of dancing first expresses itself in human person. Music, acting, poetry form a single compartment of human personification, while sculpture, painting and all other arts of design proceed in another stream. There is no primary art beyond these two arts, and their origin is much earlier than man himself-and dancing came first. It may be that earlier to human existence, dancing and architecture were the result of the same impulse. Edmund Selous suggests that the nest of birds is the chief early form of building and the creation of nest may have first arisen out of their ecstatic sexual dance."

All forms of dances have their histrionic background of evolution. Topographic conditions, climate, language, deport- ment and mise en scene of folk dances indigenous to a nation and the physical built of the people are the main guiding conditions for the suggestion of a particular type of dancing. The striking example is of the dance-forms prevalent in the plains of the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra rivers, Rajasthan, Tanjore and Kerala. There is considerable difference between the artistic representation of one form of Bharat Nritya (miscalled "Kathak") dancing in the Gangetic and the Indus plains and the other in Rajputana; between Manipuri dance of Bengal and of Assam; between Sadir dance of Tanjore and Dassiattam of Tamilnad ; between Bharat Natyam and Kathakali between Garba, the folk- dance of Gujerat and Rasa Lila, the folk-dance of Uttar Pradesh, etc.

Nrtya, Gita and Vadhya are the three essential factors of our Sangita. Dancing (Nartana) has three off-shoots, viz., Natya, which essentially represents a theatrical performance; Nrtt, which conveys rhythmic movement of the body without alluding abhinaya or bhava and, therefore, largely drawing its art from the footwork; and, Nrtya, meaning rhythmic movement of the body anent some bhava stipulated in a piece of abhinaya, thus alluding some story. The joyous strokes of the feet of children or the rise and fall or the philosophers' thoughts, all are governed by the same law of rhythm. If this law of rhythm, lying at the root of all Indian dancing, is overlooked, one would fail to understand the supreme manifestation of physical life-life not only in the external space of human action, but also in the internal space of self-realisation, The significance of dancing lies, in its truest form, in a single and an intimate, concrete appeal of a general rhythm-that general rhythm which does not merely mark life, but the universe in its wide sense; and if one is still persistent to consider it a narrow suggestion, it is the sum total of all cosmic influences which reach and affect human life. It need surprise none that rhythm, ever tending to be moulded into a time, should mark all the physical and spiritual manifestations of life.

Dancing is the supreme expression of religion and love alike- of religion from the earliest time of human existence and of love from the age much anterior to the birth of man! Tracing the history of the origins of dancing in the human person, it is seen intimately entwined with the human behaviour in respect of the tradition of war, labour, entertainment, education, whereas some of the wisest philosophers and the ancient civilisations have con- sidered the dance as "the pattern in accordance with which the moral life of men must be woven.

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