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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in India

A window into the dance drama of kathakali

It takes about 8-10 years to even learn the basics…

By Sharath Kumar
Kathakali Maestro

I’ve been a kathakali performer for the last 40 years. It takes about eight to ten years training to learn the basics and even then you can’t learn absolutely everything from a teacher. Kathakali is a dance drama combining music, song, choreography and hand and facial gestures as a form of expression. Many of the scenes are created by the dancer himself. You need to double up on your improvising skills which requires a lot of research. Unlike other dramas, we don’t have a director.

There are many versions of kathakali’s history but they all revolve around man’s quest to find God. We can explore this during my tour, Demistifying Kathakali, at my centre in Fort Kochi where guests, should they want, can unravel my version of the drama’s origins. You’ll be able to watch an exclusive performance and get a taste of the training that goes into it. I’ll take you backstage and show you how the elaborate costumes are made – it can take up to two hours for a performer to get ready. You could even apply some of the colourful make-up (natural minerals with coconut oil) that we use on your face and try some of the basic moves.

The future of kathakali? You know 40 years ago it was a dying form of art. It was frightening. But now it’s coming into fashion again. We’ve performed stories other than the traditional Hindu mythologies like King Lear, Snow White and Cinderella. It’s a full-time job. You have to know the stories, scripts and have to be familiar with every subtle movement and expression. You also have to be a good dreamer because every performance is original. But the real impact isn’t happening on the stage, it’s in the minds of the audience.

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Alfred & Sharath Kumar

Sharath began learning the classical dance of bharatnatyam at the tender age of 5 and his kathakali journey began soon after. He has had the privilege of working with several great maestros and has competed in various festivals winning many prizes. He represented India in the World Youth Festival held in Havana in 1978 as India’s youngest cultural ambassador and has travelled the world performing to audiences including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and former American Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.