Kathakali traced its origin to the ritualistic (tantric) period of the Vedic Age and connected its growth from the popular, folk dance dramas.
It was believed that Kathakali was conceived from Krishnanaattam, the dance drama on the life and activities of Lord Krishna created by the Samoothirippadu ( Samoothiri or Swamy Thirumulpad), of Calicut.
The reason for that is said as follows: Once Kottarakkara Thampuran the Raja of Kottarakkara who was attracted by the tone of the Krishnanaattam requested the Samoothirippadu for the loan of a troupe of performers on the eve of some festive occasion.
Due to internal feuds and political rivalry between them, the Samoothirippadu refused to send the performers and insulted with the remarks: “It is useless to depute the troupe, because Kottarakkara Thespian’s court would be neither able to appreciate nor understand anything of the highly artistic Krishnanaattam and the high standard of the performance”.
Here the political rivalry between the two chieftains leads to the art rivalry. So Kottarakkara Thampuran initiated a parallel mode of entertainment, which he called Raamanaattam which was later transformed into Aattakatha, and yet later into Kathakali while Krishnanaattam based on the story of Lord Krishna’s activities, Raamanaattam described the complete story of Lord Raman.
Krishnanaattam was written in Sanskrit, “the language of the Gods”. Raamanaattam was in Malayalam, the language of the people. The use of Malayalam, the local language (albeit as a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam, called Manipravalam), has also helped the literature of Kathakali sound more transparent for the average audience. By the end of the seventeenth century, the finished product of Raamanaattam was placed before the world under the title Kathakali.