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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
Kathakali Srsti (The Genesis of Kathakali)
Angikabhinaya (Action of the Limbs)
Sattvikabhinaya (Emotional Aciton)
Aharyabhinaya (Action of Make-up, Costume and Stage)
Vacikabhinaya (Action of Rhythm and Music)
Abhinaya Pradurbhava (Kathakali Practice)
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