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Kathakali : Famous Writers and Attakathas

Updated on April 4, 2020

Kathakali - A great classical dance of Kerala

Kathakali is a unique classical dance of India. It is a dance in which the dramatic elements are predominantly emphasized. In addition to the is a rare blending of literature (sahithyam), music (sangeetham), painting (chithram), acting (natyam) and dance (nritham), the colourful make up, attractive costumes, Indian classical choreography, enthralling music, and eloquent performance are the appealing characteristics of this great art form which has a history of around three centuries.

The Kathakali literature (Attakatha )

Attakatha means the story for attam (dance). The literature of Kathakali is written in a mixed language (Manipravalam) consisting of Sanskrit and Malayalam. Now there are no such strict language stipulations now.

Kathakali Stories

The stories for Kathakali are taken from the Indian epics, puranas and mythology. But the religious character has been losing ground now and many secular themes have been adopted for plot. The great classics of world literature have been used for attakatha. Shakespeare's King Lear, Julius Caesar, Marlowe's Faust are some of the works adopted for modern Kathakali performances and have got accolade both in India and abroad. Some of the stories from the bible have also taken to the world of Kathakali. By these innovations, it has become very much popular worldwide.


Famous Attakatha Writers and their Works

Kottayath Thampuran : Bhaka Vadham, Kalyana Sougandhikam, Kirmeera Vadham, and Nivataka Kalakeya Vadham.

Unnai Varrier : Nala Charitam.

Irayimman Thampi : Keechaka Vadham, and Uttara Swayamvaram.

K C Kesavapilla : Sri Krishna Vijayam,and Hiranyasura Vadham.

Kalamandalam Kesavan : Sohrab and Rustum (adopted from Mathew Arnold's work with the same title), Bheema Bhandhanam, and Ekalavya Charitam.

Famous Kathakali Stories - Nalacharitam

Nalacharitam is one of the most popular attakatha in the Kathakali literature. It was written by Unnayi Varrier. It is a story taken from Mahabharata, one of the great Indian epic with more than one lakh couplets and hundreds of mythical stories and legends. It deals with the love story of Nala and Damayanthi. They have to pass through many trails and tribulations in life due to the unscrupulous actions of Kali who also loves Damayanthi and desires to possess her by killing Nala. The attakatha of Nalacharitam is to perform for four days. But now abridged versions also performed due to lack of time.

Kalamandalam Gopi  performs  in Nalacharitham
Kalamandalam Gopi performs in Nalacharitham | Source

Famous Kathakali Stories - Kalyana Sougandhikam

Kalyana Sougandhikam is also a story taken from Mahabharata. This attakatha tells the story of Bhima's journey to bring a Sougandhika flower to his wife , Panchali and a number of events related with it. Bhima meets his brother Hanuman with whom he has an unsuccessful test of strength before recognizing his true identity. He finally become successful by gathering the flower for his wife with the advice of his brother.

Kalyana Sougandhikam Kathakali Video

Famous Kathakali Stories - Duryodhana Vadham

This story is focused on the Great Kurushetra war in which the two great families of two brothers fought for the control of power of Aryavartha (Greater India ) and the death of Duryodhana, one of the leaders of Kaurava family, by Bhima in a mortal combat. Duryodhana is the real cause for the disastrous war of Kuruskhethra. He is the king pin of the group of Kauravas who has tried to torment Pandavas by number of intrigues and caused the humiliation of Panchali in the open court before all distinguished persons and elders.

Sadanam_Krishnankutty as Raudra_Bheem in Duryodhanavadham
Sadanam_Krishnankutty as Raudra_Bheem in Duryodhanavadham | Source

Famous Kathakali Stories - King Lear

The “King Lear “, a play written by Shakespeare, has been adapted for Kathakali. It is an attempt to popularize the Kathakali to international audience as world classics help to understand the classical dance drama. The plot has not been changed from the original play. The characters are classified as per the Kathakali conventions into different types.

Famous Kathakali Stories - Julius Caesar

The famous historical play of Shakespeare has been adapted for Kathakali by Dr. Sadanam Harikumar, of Gandhi Seva Sadanam Kathakali academy. The attakatha is written in Malayalam. The Julius Caesar Kathakali has got very wide appreciation from India and abroad.


Famous Kathakali Stories - The Faust

The legend of Faust, who sold his soul to devil for the unlimited wealth, power and authority in the world, is adopted for Kathakali without alterations in the plot structure. It has been a huge success in the history of Kathakali performance.

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