It is evident that the most renowned and prestigious art form of Kerala origin is Kathakali.It has earned appreciation from all over India and abroad.
A classical dance-drama known as 'Krishnanattam' was formed by the Manaveda Zamorin of Calicut (1585-1658A.D) based on 'Gita Govinda' written by Poet Jayadeva.Manaveda wrote 'Krishna Giti' based on it and sub divided it in eight parts and designed Krishnanattam in 1654.Krishnanattam earned praise from audience and the ruler of 'Kottarakkara' invited to his Kingdom the troupe of Manaveda to illustrate the new art form to the audience at Kottarakkara.Manaveda Zamorin declined this request by commenting that there would not be any learned audience to understand his classical art form in Kottarakkara Kingdom.'Kottarakkara Thampuran(The Rajah) could not bear that insult and he wrote a story in poetic form from Ramayana and designed suitable costumes,percussion instruments to be used for it,and was portrayed as 'Ramanattam'.While Krishnanattam was in Sanskrit, Ramanattam was in Malayalam which could be easily followed by all sectors in the society and earned rapid fame.Later others also wrote suitable Kathakali stories and several additions and changes were made to costumes and ornaments used. Finally it became a fantastic classical dance art form as we see today.
In Kathakali, the prime difference which we note is the extra ordinary heavy make up and costume style.The second thing is that it uses anchor playback music and the artists will not speak or sing but enact as according to the song and complimentary percussion.Instruments such as 'Chenda,Ilathalam,Idakka and Sudhamaddalam' are used for Kathakali and the music is unique and appealing.
All the five elements of 'Natya Sastra' are used in Kathakali.Natyam(expression),Nritham(Dance),Nrithyam(Enactment),Geetham(Song),Vadyam(Percussion instruments) are all used in Kathakali.More over the element 'Sahityam'(lyrics) is also well included for this art form.
The players do not get chance to act using their voice and tone control to impress the audience but they have to employ well defined body movements , face expressions and hand gestures to enact the situations.There are nine main face expressions and twenty four main hand gestures which are used commonly for all dance and classical art forms like 'Koodiyattam' and Krishnanattam.They are all used in Kathakali also.The artists will be well trained to express feelings with 9 'Nava Rasa Bhava' like Sringaram,Hasyam,Bhayanakam(fear),Karunam,Roudram(anger),Veeram(valour),Bheephalsam(disgust),Alphutham(wonder) and santham(tranquility).The artists who have inborn qualities and abilities could shine well in Kathakali since there are occasions to show off their skills by their own in Kathakali sections known as 'Ilakiyattam'.