When the twilight loses its multitudes of shades to the all-engulfing darkness of the night, the thick wicks bathed in untainted coconut oil in the kalivilakku (a huge bell metal lamp placed in the temple premises) are lit to begin a resplendent art form called Kathakali. A stylised version of Indian classical dance drama that originated around the same time when Shakespeare was scribbling his masterpieces, Kathakali attracted the attention of many with its magnificent character makeup, elaborate costumes and well-defined body movements. These resplendent make-ups, known as vesham, typify the character of Kathakali. The accepted vesham conventions classify it into five basic sets based on facial make-up characteristics. It’s visz. That is, Pacha (green), Kathi (knife), Kari (black), Thaadi (beard), and Minukku (radiant). The Pacha Vesham with its predominant green color is used to portray noble male characters such as kings and divine beings. Such characters have a mixture of nature which is satvic (pious) and rajsik (kingly). The satvic element allows the artist to explain his acting talents in an immense way. Examples of pacha vesham are characters like Lord Krishna, and Lord Rama Kathi characters are arrogant and evil, but they have a streak of courage in them. While their makeup is essentially black, denoting that they are born strong, a red mark is painted on the cheek like an upturned moustache or knife to indicate that they are bad. They also have white knobs on their noses tips, and on their foreheads, adding to their evil nature. A typical Kathi character in Kathakali is Ravana, the Demon King. There are three distinct types in the thadi vesham viz class. Chuvanna thadi (red beard as in Bali’s character) vella thadi (white beard) and karutha thadi (black beard). Red beards are vicious characters, and excessively evil. Their faces are mostly black on the top half and red on the bottom. The white beard represents a higher type of being and is seen mainly in the character of Hanuman, the god of the monkeys. Black beards are the types of character in which black predominates in make-up and costume. These are primitive beings, wild hunters and forest dwellers. Kari Vesham is used for demon characters, portraying the most gruesome figures on the Kathakali stage. Their faces are jet-black on them with pointed red and white markings. Minukku vesham symbolizes gentleness and high spiritual qualities (like saints) which contrast sharply with the four previous classes.Besides these five main classes there are eighteen special characters such as Jatayu, Hamsam and Karkotaka whose make-up can not be fitted into any specific category.
The dancer wears a white or white plain sari embellished with a bright golden or gold lacquered brocade embroidered on its borders, complemented by a matching choli or blouse. A plissed cloth with concentrated bands of golden or saffron color adorns the front of the waist sari. The embellishment not only helps the performer to flexibly execute her impressive footwork but also emphasizes it, enabling the viewer to experience it from a distance. She wears a silver belt around her waist, too. Her head, hair, ears, collar, wrists and fingers are adorned with jewellery. In her ankles are wrapped musical anklets named ghunghru made of leather straps with small metallic bells attached to it. They produce rhythmic sound while showing excellent footwork. Her feet and fingers are brightened with natural red colored tints to highlight her hand gestures. The dancer’s face make-up is usually light with an Hindu tikka on her forehead while her lips are bright red and her eyes are prominently lined to make her eye movements more visible. Typically, her hair tied to the left side of her head is tightly round chignon hairstyle and beautified with flowers, usually jasmine, ringing around the bun.
Theyyatam’s very attractive features are its colorful costumes. The makeup includes very detailed face painting in various styles and body decoration. In the plays are personified the hierarchy of gods, goddesses, heroes, demons, spirits and other mythical beings. Although there is no fundamental difference in the costumes and the make-up of these theyyams, according to the main characteristics, each category of theyyams varies from the other categories. The typical heroes ‘ waist dress is found in Kathivanur Veeran which is made from bamboo splices and covered with red cloth. They’re like Theechamundi, Pottan Theyyam, and Uchitta’s waist dress is woven out of coconut leaves as they leap into the fire. The naked body is painted with various native colours, above the waist dress. The specific painting system of a theyyam’s body differs from the one of other theyyam. Velltam’s body is usually smeared with a rice-and turmeric paste. Some systems are adopted for painting players ‘ faces. The head dress or’ Mudi’ also differs from each other. They are made of bamboo splices and wooden planks covered with flowers and coconut leaves. Peacock feathers are also used in some cases. Kshethrapalan’s theyyam and a few Bhagavathies use nearly fifty to sixty feet high long crowns made of areca nut trees and splices of bamboo. These crowns are backed by long bamboos held by several helpers in order to maintain the balance when placed on the player’s head. These long crowns are either coated with colored cloth or thatched with coconut leaves, according to local customs. Some of the Bhagavathies wear a silver diadem of a small serpent’s head crowned with red flowers. A huge golden necklace, elaborately carved in wood and set with fancy jewels, is worn in some items. Wearing adornments and a wooden breast, the female deities. In a few theyyams such as Pottan Theyyam mask made of sheaths of areca nut tree leaves and wooden planks are used. Goddesses ‘ breast is usually covered with bright ornaments and is known as’ Ezhutharam’ (seven models). All males and females wear bracelets called’ Katakam’ and’ Chutakam’ and small anklets on the legs. In the case of Bhagavathies in Roudra Mood (fearful appearance) torches are attached to the waist and the crown produces a terrible appearance.
The make-up, though simple, is very similar to that of Kathakali. The face is painted blue-mixed with yellow arsenic. The eyes are purple, and the lips reddish. For the expressive benefit, the full face painting is retained. The dancer wears a breast-plate decorated with golden pearls, necklaces and tassels of colour. The skirts look like the white waist garments. The head-gear is small, made of light wood, clad in bright stones and decorated with golden paper. The bracelets, amulets and waistlets are almost identical to those in Kathakali
Thirayattam is enacted on different themes including gods and legendary social figures whose heroic features are popular in the region. Natives celebrate Thirayattam with great devotion to their “Koolam” or “Moorthy” deities. Dancers disguise themselves as’ Koolam’ in vibrant and unique costumes and ornaments. The two important aspects of’ koolam’s costume are the Mughamezhuthu (facial paintings) and the melezhuthu (body paintings) made by skilled craftsmen. Makeup is derived from natural objects such as leaves and barks or bamboo, and coconut trees are used for masks, hair and beards. The performers are going into trance with the’ koolam’ that they execute with vivacious violent gestures and postures that are considered sacred. While performing Thirayattam dance, dancers need great flexibility. Some believe thatit has originated in many forms of martial arts. Some of the weapons such as “Val” (sword), “Paricha” (shield), “Shoolam” (trident), “Kuntham” (sphere), “AmbumVillum” (bow and arrow) to name a few are commonly used in Thirayattam
The costumes are one of Kummattikali’s most interesting facets. The dancers donate a heavily painted, colorful wooden mask depicting Krishna, Narada, Kiratha, Darika or hunters faces. Typically, these masks are made of saprophyte, jack fruit tree, Alstonia scholaris, Hog Plum or Coral tree. The dancers wear skirts woven from plaited grass. Some will cover their entire body with bunches of grass for a bushier look. The semblance is made more joyful with the’ talla’ externally attached to the mask giving a toothless open mouth appearance. Dancers also hold and manipulate long sticks of residual agricultural produce called’ Kummattikali’: the dance derives its name from this. Their dance is related to the myth of Shaiva. Thamma’ (an old woman) is walking in front with the help of a stick. Thamma is a symbol of the mother of every being and everything. Kummatti dancers are a sight to watch as they move from house to house collecting jaggery, rice, or small amounts of cash. Onlookers, especially kids, take great pleasure in their success.The rhythm for the dance movements is provided by vibrating the string of an onavillu-like bow instrument. Areca nut wood is used for making the bow and the strings are beaten with a narrow bamboo stick. Kummattikali’s themes are mostly taken from the stories of Ramayana, Darika Vadham, Shiva’s story and folk tales like Manjan Nayare Pattu. It may be noted that folk art of Kerala can be classified into two broad categories – ritualistic and non-ritualistic. Ritualistic can be further divided into – Devotional, performed to please a particular god and goddess and Magical Art Forms. Theyyam, Thira, Poothamthira, Kannyar Kali, Kummattikali, etc. are some of devotional art forms.