History of - Cochin - Ernakulam (Arts and Culture)

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Ayurveda in Kerala

The majority of the people of Kerala are Dravidians by origin. Hinduism is the principal religion with considerable percentages of Muslims and Christians. Kerala is world famous for its highly skilled craftsmenship.
Art and Culture
Kerala is known much for Kathakali, a 300-year-old dance form developed exclusively in Kerala combining the performing art forms of opera, ballet, masque, and pantomime. The dance is a beautiful blending of color, dance, music, drama, and expressions. There are also other dance forms such as Krishnanattom, Mohiniyattom, Thullal, Koodiyattom, Kolkkali, Thiruvathirakali, Kakkarishi Natakom, Oppanna, and Chavittunatakom. Panchavadyam, Nadanpattu, and Omanathinkal These dance forms have evolved over a period of few centuries in Kerala.

A beautiful mix of dance, drama and music, connoisseurs in the art world describe Kathakali as a 'total art form of immense sophistication and power'. Essentially a mine show, Kathakali involves dancing with mudras (hand gestures conveying the text of the lyric) and speacialised steps which follow the song to the accompaniment of chenda, maddalam (country drums), chenkila and elathalam (cymbals).

Dating back to the 17th century, and rooted in Hindu mythology, the dance drama is a harmonious combination of literature (Sahityam), music (sangeetham), painting (chithram), acting (natyam) and dance (nrithyam). All the five forms play a very important role in the recital. With his face painted green and made up with a spot of the scared sandal paste on the brow, eyes lined with mascara and lips toned by cherry and white chin masks, the dancer dons a colorful costume and an impressive headpiece. A traditional pedestal nilavilakku (oil lamp) with 60 wicks on both sides lights the dancing floor. During the performance, the dancers do not speak, but their hand movements, called mudras, and facial expressions, express the sentiments. Interestingly, experts say that a kathakali actor can gain full control of his facial muscles only after a tedious training process. The powerful vocal music and athe sound of drums in the background add to the magic of a kathakali performance.

Drawing heavily from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the make - up of a kathakali artiste is very complicated, requires several hours to appply, and a major part of it is done by the actor himself. There are four types of make - up and each colour denotes the nature of the character played. For instance, a character with his face painted green and wearing sober and beautiful attire signifies a godly or virtuous character; a red beard depicts aggressive and demonic characters; a black beard depicts aborigines, cavemen and forest dwellers and a white beard represents saints, rishis and other holy men.

Though only 300 years old, a great deal of enrichment and refinement has taken place in the dance form. In the past,, these performances only took place in temple premises or at the house of a local landlord. A minimum of 144 sq ft was needed for the acting area and the level of the stage used to be the same as that of the ground, where people used to sit watching the performance. In the beginning, it is believed that the actor themselves used to sing the text while performing. It is believed that one of the chieftains of Kottarakkara wrote the first kathakali play: it was in the form of a cycle of eight stories based on the Ramayana, each designed to last for six to eight hours.

Food and Drink
Kerala is noted for its variety of pancakes and steamed rice cakes made from pounded rice. For the Muslims, the lightly flavoured Biryani-made of mutton, chicken, egg or fish takes pride of place. In seafood, mussels are special. For the Christians, who can be seen in large volumes in areas like Kottayam and Pala, ishtew (a derivation of the European stew), with appam is a must for every marriage reception. Kerala also has its own fermented beverages -the famous kallu (toddy) and patta charayam (arrack). Arrack is extremely intoxicating and is usually consumed with spicy pickles and boiled eggs (patta and mutta).