Kathakali as an art form has had many followers all over the world. Me too have grown up watching, discussing , listening to Kathakali and related stories. However, there are very few serious writings on this field. For an art form with a history over 300 years , constantly improving and developing newer techniques and styles calls for many more studies and analysis. Majority of the information available to us are from the practitioners of the art itself and that too from the later part of the 20th century. While this is important and gives us a insider view, it is also important that we have the people from the 'follower' or 'connoisseur' community to write about this.
What is available now from this point of view is only a handful, lead by "Kathakali Rangam" by Sri K P S Menon. I personally know many capable and elderly personalities with their expertise and experience in this field. It is important to get this wealth of information / data / stories preserved for the coming generation.
I have just finished reading a brilliant book by Sri Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiripad with Sri M P S Namboodiri, titled "Kathakaliyude Rangapattha charithram". Sri Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiripad is kathakali personified with his experience as administrator and close proximity to the changes of this art. Sri MPS Namboodiri served as the Principal of Kerala Kalamandalam and is one of the leading performer of Kathakali.
Let me tell you up-front that I'm not qualified or learned enough to comment on this subject. I expect other experts to do that. However, I can say what impressed me in this book. The book looks back at the history of Kathakali and the changes it went through from the inception stages of "Ramanattam". It also looks at the different schools of training and performance and the improvements brought in by each schools. What is admirable is the way the book is structured. It examines the art from the writers ( Kartrupadham) , the performance ( Rangapadham), the training ( Shikshanapadham) and the audience (aswadanapadham). This complete the circle. From the 'Vageyakara's ( taking a cue from carnatic music) to the performers and followers he is looking at the progress of Kathakali focussing on Kottarakkara, Vettam , Kottayam, Kaplingad . Kalladikode and Kalluvazhi schools.
Understandably, majority of the quotes are taken from the 'Kathakali rangam' and with his interpretation, this books gives us the insight of the changes it had gone through over the centuries. However, most of the discussion and scope of this books is until the time of Kalamandalam and Sri Pattiykkamthodi Ravunni Menon , who is instrumental in setting up the training in Kalamandalam and one of the heroes of the Kalluvazhi style ( kallucazhichitta) of Kathakali.
What would have been included ( or is that a scope for another book ?) is post -Kalamandalam era ( 2nd half of 20th century) and the current status of the so called Southern Style ( Thekkan Chitta) of Kathakali. The other major change affected all traditional art, I think, is the introduction of advanced technology. From the amplification , lighting and the improvements in the dresses (using fiber thrown among many others) were also not been discussed. As I said, this is now visible to the current generation and there is ample time for another discussion on this subject.
Kathakaliyude Rangapathacharithram (2007)
Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiri & M P S Namboodiri