It is believed that the world famous art form of Kerala, took birth in the land of Ganesa, Kottarakara. Kathakali took form in the seventeenth century. There are some legends behind its origin.
One day Kottarakara thampuran, requested the Zamorin of Kozhickode, Manaveda, to send a team of Krishnanattam performers for a festival. But the Zamorin sarcastically denied the request. This was an insult to the Thampuran. Kottarakara Thampuran went to the Ganapathy temple and pleaded for a way. Then on the surface of his mind arose the plan to create a new art form. He sat on the banks of the temple’s pond looking in to the water. There he saw different shapes of waves in scintillating colour combinations. From this experience Thampuran created the costume designs of Kathakali. He wrote Ramanattam sitting beneath the banyan tree near the temple. Thus it was as a reply to the Zamorin’s sarcasm that Thampuran created a new art form, Ramanattam. This art form later developed into Kathakali.
The people around Kottarakara believed that Kathakali became famous with the blessings of The Lord Ganapathy. The first staging of Ramanattam was done in front of Ganesa. Today also Kathakali occupies a prominent position in the programmes of the festival. Some historians point out that Thampuran created the new art form from the essence of a famous art form called Parappettam, which prevailed in the land during his time. Kathakali also shares a lot of similarities with Krishnanattam, Koodiyattam (a classical Sanskrit drama existing in Kerala) and Ashtapadiyattam (an adaptation of 12th-century musical called Gitagovindam). It also incorporates several other elements from traditional and ritualistic art forms like Mudiyettu, Thiyyattu, Theyyam and Padayani besides a minor share of folk arts like Porattunatakam. All along, the martial art of Kalarippayattu has influenced the body language of Kathakali. 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. The characters with painted faces and elaborate costumes besides advanced choreography (primarily developed Kaplingad Narayanan Namboodiri - 1739-1789) to re-enact stories -- largely from the Hindu epics. Kathakali has traditionally been performed in temples and palaces, but over the past century it also finds venues in post-harvest paddy fields and, since the last few decades, in proscenium stages of public halls/auditoria and even in pagentry shows (in bits) of late.
Overall, what initially began as a rustic, uncivilised form gradually gained exquisite looks, sophisticated movements and complementary audio support to graduate itself as one of the world's most advanced classical dance-dramas today.