Krishnanattam - The dance of Krishna


Krishnanattam, a dance oriented theatrical performance is the product of the Bhakti movement. Prince Manvedan of Kozhikode, Kerala, India who scripted and produced this visual treat bequeathed a unique performing art to the cultural stream of Kerala that culminated in the world renowned Kathakali. Born to pay homage to Krishna, Krishnanattam has refused to adopt innovative themes- both its strength and limitation. And it demands a special ambience, as it is the synthesis of dance, spectacular costume, music and rhythm re-enacting a cosmic play in macroscopic dimensions. The texture of the performance and its resonance draw the audience into a specific communion rooted in Bhakti, the intense self-negating love, the soul and spirit of the Krishna cult.

Preparation of facial Makeup- Pacha
Preparation of facial Makeup- Pacha

The actors used any or three colours for their basic make-up. pazhuppu, an orange with more red than yellow minukku, an orange with more yellow than red. Paccha, a particular shade of green which has more yellow than blue. If he was to wear a chutti the chutti artist applies it. The chutti was two white protruding borders which extended from ear to ear along the jaw and chin line.The green for Krishna as a young child has more yellow than blue.

In the evolution of the dance drama, Krishnattam is a milestone. It incorporated drama from the rarefied performance tradition of Koodiyattam, ancient Sanskrit drama; dance from the ritual performances like Theyyam, and folk dances like Kaikottikali. Its artistic beauty lies in its costume, make-up and dance steps. It remains a one-troupe theatre because of the Sanskrit text. The original Krishna Geethi is sung in the background in Sopanam style to the rhythmic beat of the madhalam and chengala recalling the entire gamut of Bhagavatha stories. And the performers dance to the rhythm of the music that rarely coincides with the narrative. The dancers have their own text made up of gestures, movements and tableaux evolved by countless gurus over decades. The hand-held curtain punctuates the rapid scene-changes making the story leap forward. Krishna is ever present, pervading the atmosphere and on the stage in his solitary splendour. And the spectators experience a multitude of ecstasies intensely personal, yet part of the collective consciousness.


Guruvayoor temple is the sole patron of Krishnattam. Every year there is a continuous performance of Krishnattam starting from September 1st for eight days. People watch Krishnanattam in its traditional format from the divine descent to renunciation, and rounded off on the ninth night with Avatharam again to stress the cycle of life and death. Eight becomes a mystic number: the story of the eighth incarnation of Dasavathara, born as the eighth son of Devaki, told in eight chapters in eight continuous nights with eight measures of oil that burns eight wickers lighting the lamp.

Avatharam opens the performance. Bhumi Devi tells of her woes under the stranglehold of evil to Brahma, the four-faced who promises her quick relief. In the next scene, after the marriage, Kamsa the all-caring brother transforms himself into a demon when his life is threatened. And he dominates as the overwhelming power of the evil until Vasudeva promises to deliver all their unborn children into his hands. In the next scene Lord Vishnu descends in his Viswaroopa and the parents prostrate in worshipful reverence.


Does it symbolise our own times: of the greed of Power, and the burden of the unborn? Away from the enchanting myth the scene depicts psychological realism, a moment of truth when each couple realises that their child is a gift from God, godliness incarnate! Then follows the charming pranks of the boy Krishna told and retold by countless artists over centuries, of which the Indian mind is never tired…an aura of eternity plays around when the stick in Yasoda's hand asks, 
“Telling lies…?.” 
“ No, no…no…!” is the guilt-ridden frantic answer. How human, yet how divine!! Oh, you fall in love, deeply with this adorable, boy-god that carries joy in his heart. And India has named her boys after him down the ages.


Synopsis courtsey : Padma Jayaraj,