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Krishnattam and Kathakali

In Krishnattam, huge importance is given to group movements rather than facial expressions. In this aspect, it is different from Kathakali performances, even though Kathakali is said to have been inspired from Krishnanattam and its counterpart Ramanattam. This theory has been debated by historians with no conclusive evidence to support either side. Ramanattam had been performed during the time that Krishnanattam was prevalent in the Zamorin’s courts. There is an interesting incident that is narrated on the art form’s evolution. Once, the Zamorin of Kottarakkara invited Manaveda’s Krishnanattam troupe for a performance in his court. Manaveda declined the offer stating that the underlying Sanskrit text may be too complicated for them. Taking this as a direct insult to his people’s intellect, the Kottarakkara Zamorin modified Ramanattam as a series of 8 plays similar to Krishnattam. However, Ramanattam is not performed nowadays and the story of Ramnattam has been taken up by Kathakali performers today. Krishnattam is different in that it is enclosed in the rigid framework of Krishna’s story, leaving little room for flexibility. Kathakali showcases a variety of themes and touch upon modern-day topics like capitalism and socialism. Another difference between Kathakali and Krishnattam is that in Krishnattam, the female characters like Sathyabhama have chutti applied as part of their makeup, whereas this is not the case in Kathakali. Also, Krishnattam is possibly the only art form where the episodes of Krishna’s birth and death are shown in so much detail.

Krishnattam as more than a Temple Art

Performances happen every day at the temple for months. May to September months are set aside for training for the artists. The last play of a season will be performed on May 30th and is known as Petti vechu kali, after which the artists undergo strict training under a master or aashaan. The maestros of the art form include Palakkal Achuthan Nair who dominated the stage even at the age of 80 and K Velayudhan Nair. They have played an important role in training the next generation and in making sure that the art form thrives on stages across the world. Krishnattam has now extended its reach outside of the Guruvayoor temple precincts. AC Godavarma Raja of the Guruvayoor Temple management was instrumental in bringing this art form to the outside world. With his efforts, the troupe travelled outside India to France and other countries. This journey from a court art to a temple art and then on to a global stage is indeed a story worth keeping in mind.

This article has been written with inputs from secondary sources, due to the lack of available documented history on the topic. It should be taken as a medium for spreading awareness about this art form.


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