Attakatha is the style of poetry used in Kathakali, the world renowned dance form of Kerala. This poetry forms the script and narration for the art form.
The foundation of Attakatha was laid down by King Kerala Varma, the erstwhile ruler of Kottarakara, in the 17th century. The king used this style of poetry in Ramanattam, a dance-drama form which he himself had composed. An Attakatha is made up of quatrains written in Manipravalam, a pre-modern form of
Malayalam having a heavy Sanskrit hangover. The dialogue parts are rendered in the form of songs, which are complemented by the proper gestures and body movements of the Kathakali artists. The scenes mostly belong to the Puranas. This style of poetry is best seen as an accompaniment to the dance form, rather than being simply read.
Attakatha has evolved over the time, although the basic structure has been maintained. Many authors have contributed to this form of literature. Notable among them is Poet Unnai Warrier’s 'Nalacharithum Attakatha,' which is considered as a classic.