Kerala Natanam

Kerala Natanam is a modern dance form now being practiced for about 80 years. It was in early 1930’s that Guru Gopinalith experimented with a new dance form. Guru Gopinath was a Kathakali exponent well versed in both the northern style and the southern style of Kathakali. When he saw that Kathakali was understood and followed by only the Namboodiris and those who were well versed with its techniques, he thought of a form of dance which can be understood and enjoyed by the ordinary people. His own definition of his creation Kerala Natanam is:
Kerala Natanam or Kerala Dance is a novel art form evolved from Kathakali and is comprised of nrutha (absolute or pure dance) nritya (dance with music and gesticulations) and natya (dramaturgy) and aamgika (body gestures), vaachika (verbal), aahaarya (costumes and make up) saatvika (of temperaments and involuntary status) abhinaya (acting), in accordance with the taala mela (rhythm) order of the percussion instruments used in Kerala.”

In Kathakali the basic costumes and make up were similar for all roles, abhinaya was predominantly facial, and the songs were classical Padams. In Kerala Natanam the costumes and make up were according to the character, acting was more expressive and involved more body gestures along with facial expressions emoting the songs, and the songs themselves were in common Malayalam. The posture too was different in Kerala Natanam than Katakali. While in Kathakali the artist is in the wide stance with feet at the shoulder distance, in Kerala Natanam the artists take the Tribhanga pose. In this pose the body is bent into three parts and it resembles the ‘S’. This pose is more convenient and graceful for a dance.

Many of the dance items in Kerala Natanam are modified Kathakali pieces. They are fine-tuned, tailored and adapted to suit Kerala Natanam style. Costumes used for Kerala Natanam were influenced from Raja Ravi Varma paintings which were easily identifiable by the ordinary common people. The make-up of the artists was made simpler and that resulted in ease of application and saving time.

The instruments used for the Kerala Natanam performance include the traditional ones like Maddalam, Chenda, Idakka and some other northern Indian instruments like Tabla, Harmonium, Sarangi etc. The performances are of different types. It could be Ekanga Natanam (solo dance), Sangha Natanam (group dance) or Nataka Natanam (dance drama). Unlike in Kathakali where predominantly only men were trained Kerala Natanam had both men and women trained to be Kerala Natanam artists. So pair dancing became a distinct style in Kerala Natanam. Carnatic Keerthanas, Malayalam poetry, classical songs by famous composers like Earyiman Thampi, Swathi Thirunaal, etc are used for Kerala Natanam. The themes used for the Kerala Natanam performances varied from stories from the epics like Mahabharata to contemporary topics and incidents.

Kerala Natanam

Training for Kerala Natanam is of lesser duration than Kathakali. Also it is not as difficult since in Kerala Natanam the learners needn’t have the Uzhichils (body massage). ‘Sree Chithrodaya Narthakaalayam‘ of Trivandrum was the first institution which taught Kerala Natanam. Impressed by Guru Gopinath’s creation the Maharaja of Travancore – Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma chose him as his Palace dancer. He also supported Guru Gopinath’s Kerala Natanam by providing facilities and grant so that it could be taught at the institution.

Kerala Natanam

There aren’t much authoritative books on Kerala Natanam. But Guru Gopinath’s explanation of theory of Kerala Natanam in his book of Dance can be used as a guideline.

Some of the famous dances in Kerala Natanam are:
Mayoora nrutham (peacock dance)
Veda nrutham (hunter dance)
Maanava jeevitham (life of man)
Narasimhaavathaaram (Narasimha incarnation)
Raasa kreeda (Divine dance of Krishna with the Gopis)
Kanaka chilanka (golden anklets)
Buddha charitham (story of Buddha)
Navakeralam (new Kerala)
Chandaala bhikshuki (untouchable beggar woman)
Yesu vijayam (victory of Jesus)
Sister Niveditha
Divya naadam (divine tune)
Gandhi sooktam(story of Gandhi)