Using Kathakali mudras in performance

by Fenella Kelly | 1 April 2014

It takes a minimum of six years to train to be a Kathakali performer.

Kathakali (kata-story, kali-play), is a dance-theatre form from Kerala in Southern India. Its origins can be traced back to the beginning of the 17th century. The story goes that the Raja of Tettathu nadu in Northern Kerala was intrigued by the Ramanattam players (troupes that performed the stories of Rama) and invited a group of professional actors to live in his palace. Through his own creativity the Raja developed the form using ideas for make-up, costume and mudras drawn from other Indian performing art forms including Theyyam and Mohiniyattam, with the posture, steps and body movements coming from the Keralan martial art, Kutiyattam. The performances themselves are based on stories from the Puranas (the Mahabharata and the Ramayana) and are a fusion of: dance steps (kalasams), of which there is pure dance (nritta) and expressional dance (nritya); story-telling through hand gestures (hastamudras); rhythms (talas); facial expressions (nava rasas); vocal delivery by the singer (vachika) and the make-up and costumes (aharya).

It takes a minimum of six years to train to be a Kathakali performer, and even then there are stages of performance, and it can take another two years before a complete character is performed in a play. In this master class we will therefore only be focusing on some aspects of Kathakali, and our focus will be on the mudras – what they are, how they form words and how they are applied by the performer on stage.

Kathakali salutation
All Kathakali training starts with a salutation. All performing arts of India have their own way to begin, and each has their own salutation to the gods.

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