Kathakali is the one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. It originated in the area of south western India now known as the state of Kerala, which dates from the 17th centuryKalamandalam Ramankutty Nair and is rooted in Hindu mythology. Kathakali has a unique combination of literature, music, painting, acting and dance.. Kathakali is a grouppresentation, in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on themes from Hindu mythology, especially the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Kerala is known the world over by its own performing art form, the Kathakali. "Katha" means story and "Kali" stands for dance. This is a form of dance formerly confined only to the festival stages in temples. Kathakali also symbolizes a blending of the Aryan and Dravidian cultures, for shaping its technique. This dance form assimilated various elements, which it borrowed freely from the dances, dramas and ritual performances associated with these cultures. Detailed gestures and well-defined body movements (presented in tune with anchor playback music and complementary percussion) are some other notable features of the dance. Elaborate masks, huge skirts and big head-dresses are uniquely used by the performers of Kathakali. Kathakali has three groups of performers, including actor/dancers, vocalists and percussionists. Without one another is not possible. The actor or dancers play a variety of roles, including those of kings, gods, demons, heroines, animals, priests, etc. Each role has a particular style of makeup and costume as its code.The body movements and footwork are very rigourous. To attain the high degree of flexibility and muscle control required for this art, a Kathakali dancer undergoes a strenuous course of training, and special periods of body massage.There are 24 basic gestures with many permutations and combinations, which together, convey ideas, feelings, objects and actions. Through his facial expressions and eye-movements a dancer conveys emotions like love, passion, laughter, ridicule, sorrow, pity, horror, disgust, tranquility, heroism and wonder. To attain the high degree of flexibility and muscle control required for this art, a Kathakali dancer undergoes a strenuous course of training

The orchestra of a Kathakali performance includes two drums known as the chenda and the maddalam, along with cymbals and another percussion instrument, the ela taalam. Normally, two singers provide the vocal accompaniment. The style of singing particular to Kathakali is called Sopaanam. The orchestra of a Kathakali troupe is unique and provides not only the background to the dancing, but also serves as a highly expressive special effects team. In olden days Kathakali performance mostly took place on a temple premises or at the house of a local landlord. For a typical performance, a simple temporary pandal at a height of 101/2 feet will be erected. A minimum of 12 feet-square (144 sq. feet) is needed for the acting area. A green room will also be located close to the stage. Kathakali costuming is intricate, elaborate and colourful and it takes 2 to 3 hours for the make up. The costume and make-up transform the actor mentally and physically to portray the character.Aattakkadhakal (stories for dance), the poetic compositions of legendary stories to special metric scale, set to music in classical Carnatic style are danced out.A traditional Kathakali performance begins in the evening and continues throughout the night, culminating at the auspicious hour of dawn, when Good finally conquers Evil.

The 5 main types of make up are:

  • Minukku (Prettying Up): This make up is used for female characters and sages.
  • Thadi (Beard): Some characters require a beard and the bearded look is again of 3 types
  • Pacha (Green): The color green is used for noble characters.
  • Kathi (Knife): This make up is used to portray villainous characters.
  • Kari (Black): Black colored make up is used for demonesses.

Black Beard: Used for the character of a hunter.
White Beard: For super human noble characters, like monkey God Hanuman.
Red Beard: Used for evil characters.



Kathakali is thought to have originated from pioneer dance-drama forms - Ramanattam and Krishnanattam. The word "attam" means enactment. These two forms of dance, along with Kathakali, dealt with presentation of the stories of Hindu Gods Rama and Krishna. Kottarakara Thampuran, the ruler of the south Kerala province of Kottarakkara, composed several plays on the Ramayana, which led to the evolution of Kathakali. Today, Ramanattam and Krishnanattam forms have become completely extinct, but the story plays continue to be a part of Kathakali. It originated in the 16th century AD, approximately between 1555 and 1605, and has been improved miraculously over the years.


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