Kerala, God’s Own Country has something extraordinary to offer to each one of us. If you’re a nature lover, you can immerse yourself in the tea plantations of Munnar or take a boat ride in the backwaters of Alleppey. If you’re a foodie, relish the food in Calicut, Palakkad and other places. And if you love architecture and history, explore the alleys of Fort Kochi which is a time travel in itself.
Amidst all this, what many of us ignore is the rich culture of the state. The various temples and dance forms are something that we all should experience. And hence, last week, I had my first Kathakali experience in Kochi. It surely was a spectacle to remember.
Kathakali – The Origins
Kathakali is a spectacular dance-drama that traces back to the 17th century. The art form is a mix of dance and storytelling which emphasises facial expressions and eye movement. It is influenced by ancient Sanskrit scriptures and folklore which evolved into a sophisticated art form that we see today.
It’s elaborate makeup, stylized gestures, and intricate footwork. Over the centuries, Kathakali has been nurtured by Kerala’s vibrant temple culture, royal patronage, and the dedicated efforts of generations of artists and gurus who passed down its traditions. The dance form is popular in Kerala and there are different schools and cultural centres where you can experience this.
Spectacular Kathakali experience in Kochi
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that this wasn’t my first time in Kochi. I had been here first during the Tata Nexon Blogger’s drive followed by a road trip to Munnar from Kochi and then this time for speaking at KCD Kerala. I had stayed in Fort Kochi on multiple occasions and loved the place. I enjoyed strolling through the streets and being mesmerised by the graffiti and the ancient buildings.
However, one thing I missed during my previous trips to Kerala was watching a Kathakali show. Luckily this time around, I was here for a few days and made it a point to experience it.
The Kerala Kathakali Center located in Fort Kochi conducts daily Kathakali shows. The two-hour-long show involves makeup and the performance. It costs Rs 500 and I feel it’s extremely affordable.
The show takes place from 5 PM to 7 PM daily. The centre is located inside a narrow alley where no vehicles can go. And you’ll see the crowd swell up around the start time. There’s no parking around, so you have to park your vehicles on the street. There’s a spot booking, but I bought the ticket online on the same day. The benefit of doing that was I got the first seat in the house. Any seat in the first row gives you the best view.
GRWM – Kathakali Edition
As soon as I entered the hall which reminded me of a typical single-screen cinema hall in India, I saw the make-up session had already started. They provide you with a pamphlet describing the performance for the day along with the characters. The make-up session lasts about an hour and you see how artists paint their faces and get read.
The main character of the performance, the green-faced character, is the one that takes the most time. He first paints the face green along with intricate white and black lines. Then the white cheek extension is applied to this face. It was amazing to know that all of this was a natural colour, coconut oil and a variety of flour and starch that was used. The makeup session is exciting to watch as you see the precision with which these artists paint their faces.
After witnessing the makeup session, I eagerly looked forward to the Kathakali showdown and seeing what these characters turned into. The performance began with a demonstration of the different facial expressions and hand movements used, helping us understand the language of this ancient art form. From expressions of feelings like love, sadness, and anger to phrases like ”please go”, and ”go” and. “Get lost” we got to see and understand how it works.
Then, the performance began with “Narkasur Vadham“, a thrilling tale from Hindu mythology about the defeat of the demon Narkasur. The rhythmic music and dramatic storytelling drew me in, and I was captivated by the actors’ emotive performances, the expressions, the music, the screams, everything left me spellbound. Everyone in the theatre was left in awe after the performance. It was one of the best live shows I had ever seen!
After the end of the performance, you can take pictures with the actors on the stage. There’s also a small donation box at the exit where you can donate some money. Overall, I was quite content and amazed after looking at the live performance.
Once In A Lifetime Experience
As I mentioned earlier in this post, my experience of watching a Kathakali show live was nothing short of excellence. Everything from the makeup session to the actual performance left me in awe. Everything they did, I exclaimed wow! However, what surprised me was the absence of Indians in the crowd. There were only foreigners and that made me a little depressed. I think we need to preserve and promote our culture more than anyone else.
So the next time you’re in Kerala or Kochi, make sure to spare 2 hours in your busy itinerary to experience Kathakali first-hand. Trust me, you’ll fall in love with the art form and will surely want to see many more shows in the future. I’m going to be recommending this performance from now on.