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How To Enjoy Kerala's Traditional Art "Kathakali"

Updated on July 15, 2015
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About Kathakali

Kathakali is a unique 600 year old performing art form of Kerala. Kathakali plays are artistic adaptation of stories from great Indian epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavatham.

It is a highly stylized classical Indian dance-drama noted for the attractive make-up of characters, wonderful costumes, and excellent body movements.The plays are written in poetic style.Dialogues are written in verses and set to classical ragas according to the mood of the situation and context.These verses are sung by play back singers and the actors conveys the meaning and emotions through hand gestures and body movements.

Kathakali performances are usually conducted at temples during nights and they last till early morning. Previous knowledge of the story line and character profiles helps one to appreciate the play better.


How this Art form attracted me

I had a chance to witness a Kathakali performance in a nearby temple.This was my first experience.I always thought that Kathakali is an old dead art form too difficult to enjoy.This performance changed my notion. Kathakali is a vibrant and powerful performing art form which needs to be encouraged.

It was Karnacharitham written by a cousin of my husband.Unlike traditional plays the language was so simple and the verses were so melodiously sung that I without having any previous experience could easily comprehend and enjoy the performance which lasted for 4 hours starting from 1 AM to 5 AM during a chilly night.

A little about this attractive story

As you all know Karna is a very powerful character of Mahabharata. The play has five scenes depicting five different facets of Karna's personality.scene wise synopsis is narrated below in brief.

I am uploading a few snaps and a small video clip which I capture with my mobile.Hope you all will enjoy.After reading the brief story written below enjoy the small video clip and the rest photos. Please leave a comment if you like the way of my presentation.

If anyone wants to know more about this art and about the author please leave a mail.

Krishna with Arjuna

Krishna reveals the truth
Krishna reveals the truth | Source
karna refuses Krishna's request.
karna refuses Krishna's request. | Source


Krishna while returning from the court of Duryodhana after failing in his mission for an amicable settlement searches for Karna.He takes Karna to a secluded place and tells that his efforts to settle the dispute amicably has failed.Now karna has to play a pivotal role. Karna reiterates his urge for revenge against Arjuna on account of the humiliations he has suffered .Krishna then reveals the truth that Karna is son of Sun God born to Kunthi hoping that this revelation would mellow down his strong feelings of enmity towards Arjuna.

.Karna laments on his fate and tells that he is indebted to Duryodhana and will never desert him at all.Krishna pleads with Karna to leave Duryodhana and joins Panadhava side where he will be the leader as the eldest Pandava. Karna refuses to oblige.

Kunthi with karna

Kunthi with Karna
Kunthi with Karna | Source
kunthi expresses her emotions.
kunthi expresses her emotions. | Source
Kunti  blesses karna
Kunti blesses karna | Source


Karna sitting on the banks of river Ganga looks back into his past.He feels guilty for many of his deeds in the light of his newly revealed identity.He takes bath in the river and plans to go back.Suddenly he sees Kunthi coming to him.Since Kunthi has not so far officially acknowledged him as his son,he receives Kunthi as the mother of Pandavas.

Kunthi opens her heart and pleads with Karna to lead his younger brothers in the battle.He politely refuses.Mother and the son exchange their emotions and grievances.

Karna pledges to Kunthi that in battle he will no kill any Pandava except Arjuna and will ensure that after the battle also she will have five sons.But either Karna or Arjuna will survive to serve her.Kunthi blesses him and departs

Karna with his wife.

Karna reveals his identity.
Karna reveals his identity. | Source
Wife is sending Karna to battle field
Wife is sending Karna to battle field | Source


Karna has become the leader of Duryodana's army.Still he is gloomy.His wife seeks the reason for his gloominess.

Karna reveals his real identity and shares his mental worries with his wife.She consoles him and reassures him that his good deeds will always help him in this critical hour.

She sends him to the battlefield with renewed confidence and vigor.

Krishna ,Arjuna, Karna and salya.

Yudhishtir becomes apprehensive of the outcome of the war
Yudhishtir becomes apprehensive of the outcome of the war | Source
Arjun is going to the battle field
Arjun is going to the battle field | Source


In the battle Karna defeats Yudhishtir. Instead of killing him Karna humiliates and drives him back to his tent.

Yudhishtir becomes apprehensive of the outcome of the war.Krishna and Arjuna reaches there to enquire about his health.Yudhishtir presumes that Arjuna has come after slaying Karna and starts praising him.Arjuna consoles him that he will kill Karna immediately.Dejected Yudhishtir sarcastically directs Arjuna to handover the Gandiv to someone else who has courage and skill to face Karna

.Infuriated Arjuna pulls out his sword and advances to behead Yudhisthir remembering his wow to kill anyone who commands him to leave Gandiv.Krishna interfere and advises Arjuna that humiliating someone is more painful than killing. Arjuna explodes and starts abusing Yudhishtir pointing him as the single cause for all the troubles they have faced and this battle.Dejected Yudhishtir surrenders before Arjuna to inflict any punishment

Suddenly Arjuna realizes that he has abused his elder brother whom he has been respecting like his father.Out of frustration Arjuna tries to commit suicide.Krishna again intervenes and asks Arjuna to seek blessings from his brother and go back to the battle field.

Salya ,Arjuna ,krishna and Karna

  Karna and Arjun in the battle field.with Krishna and Salya
Karna and Arjun in the battle field.with Krishna and Salya | Source
The weeping Arjuna near the dead body of Karna
The weeping Arjuna near the dead body of Karna | Source


King Salya, uncle of Pandavas, was made to drive the chariot of Karna .Salya discourages Karna to face Panadava in the battle field. Karna ridicules him to forget his relationship with Pandavas and discharge his duty as a charioteer.They face Arjuna in the battle field. Karna sends Nagastra and cleverly Krishna saves Arjuna. During the battle the chariot of Karna sinks in the soil.He gets down to put back the chariot in position pleading with Arjuna to suspend fighting till he is back on the chariot.Krishna reminds Arjuna of the cruelties done by Karna to his son and wife

.Arjuna out of fury send arrows against unarmed Karna.Karna succumbs to his arrows.Krishna tells Arjuna who Karna was. Arjuna repents and postrates at the feet of dead Karna.

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    • devisree profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from India

      Thank you sunilkunnoth2012 for your encouraging comment.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 

      4 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Devisree, It is a nice attempt by you on a great topic. I hope this will give some idea to the rest of the world about Kathakali. You can try on different topics like Mohiniyattam, our great food culture and a lot more. People love to know a little bit about other cultures and traditions. I have done a couple of hubs keeping this in mind and all of them have given me good traffic and comments. So give a try. Keep on researching and write more. All the best.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How To Enjoy Kerala's Traditional Art "Kathakali" Informative, useful and most interesting about the Indian culture as any other would be. Voted up, interesting, useful

    • devisree profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from India

      Thanks Radhikasree for going through . Happy to know that you enjoyed and able to understand easily through this limited clippings.Really your comment is a valuable one for me .

    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 

      6 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Kathakali is Kerala's heritage art form that has a unique style of its own. Kathakali Sangeetham is also commendable as it also adds to this art's charm. I could easily learn Karnacharitam through the video and photos you've presented. Thanks for sharing.

      Up, beautiful, awesome, interesting and useful!

    • devisree profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from India

      Hi brother,

      Greatly honored with the sincere comments of the author of 'Karnacharitham' himself.

      If I had succeeded in presenting the story it is because of your blessings.Thanking you.

    • devisree profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from India

      Thanks for the encouraging comment

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice article Mema..

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      praiseworthy effort to promote Kathakali thro hubpages.keep it up


    • devisree profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from India

      Hi vimal,

      Thanks for your comment

    • devisree profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from India

      Hai Rema,

      Thanks for going through my hub and commenting.

    • profile image

      Rema vijayakumar 

      6 years ago

      hai mam........really great...

    • profile image

      Vimal Nair 

      6 years ago

      Very nicely put... thanks a lot for this upload...


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