South Indian Music at the Kathakali Culture Center

I had the pleasure of listening to classical South Indian music the other night with a guest I happened to connect with at the 51 restaurant in Spice Harbour. We went to the oldest remaining theater in Fort Cochin for Kathakali, which is a traditional art form of Kerala that originated in the early 17th century. In this theater, they have famous Kathakali dance as well as classical music, meditation, and yoga. Even though we just went for the music, I got to learn a little bit more about the dance.


The made-up face of the Kathakali dancers is ubiquitous around Kerala. To do the make up takes at least one hour.

In Malayalam, ‘Katha’ means story and ‘Kali’ means play. I didn’t see the traditional Kathakali dance but from what I learned the dance has a storyline that is acted out through mime and drama. The stories are mostly based on Hindu mythology.

The instruments that we listened to were flute, mridangam, and kanjira. Mridangam and kanjira are drums. There was also a drone playing from an electronic shruti box.

The music put me into a dreamy state of mind. As I was listening I found my mind drifting back to all my music theory classes to help me wrap my mind around what I was listening to.  In the beginning they told us the ragas were in 8 count rhythm. Our minds can easily predict phrases that fit within a 4 count rhythm, so I wondered what made an 8 count so different. Then I realized the emphasis was on the 5th and 7th count which was pretty cool and made me understand why the phrasing was so unpredictable. Something about the syncopated rhythm and the ambiance sent me into a theta state of deep relaxation.

I was grateful to spontaneously meet that friend and get to experience that traditional aspect of Kerala culture!


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