A little bit Kathakali


Kathakali is a classical dance-drama from Kerala

Kathakali a highly classical Dance-Drama, is typical Kerala ballet of yore. It is being accepted as an international art form. Most colorful costumes, symbolical facial makeup, highly rhythmical steps, body movements and body posters ably support the language of Kathakali- the expressive code of gestures or hand signs "MUDRA" to convey message. The actors do not sing or say lines on the stage. The music is in our language Malayalam and Sanskrit that narrates the story and actors translate the meaning of music and convey in their language the gestures. Musician controls the stage. In Kathakali most of the stories are taken from the famous Hindu epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagavata. The oil lamp is must for Kathakali being a devotional type of Dance drama and that symbolizes the presence of God. Make up is an interesting as well as an important part of this theatre- Kathakali. For Kathakali make up various mineral colors are being used. The especially of Kathakali make up is that you can understand the characteristics of the characters from the facial make up. The facial make up of Pacha( green) denotes a good, noble or royal characters. Similarly black indicates a powerful or wicked or demon, face in green color itself with knife( Kathi) like border on the cheeks in red color indicates a character gentle but brute at heart. The make up for ladies, sages are simple with brownish tinge on the face. The minimum course is 6 years for an actor. A student has to work 10 to 14 hours a day. Yearly oil massage for body in rainy season for 3 months makes the body of the actor flexible to dance with heavy steps by balancing the heavy costumes weighing about 20 to 30 KGS. Most of the costumes are made out of light wood and cloths it gives a total look of sur-realistic or divine characters.


(Kalamandalam Shijukumar)

Kathakali make-up is an elaborate process lasting for 3 hours. It helps in giving a super hu man look to the actors. The make-up is directly applied to the face and it does not obstruct the full expression of face and eyes.The colouring material used is made from various stones and natural powder which are mixed with water or coconut oil and ground into fine paste.The actor lies flat on a matted floor and the experts starts drawing « the designs » on the face. The most elaborate part of the make up is the chutti (a series of white ridges built up from the chin to the either side of the cheek).After face part make up, the actor stands up to put on the costume. The skirt is as well starched and pressed into frills garment. Before the skirt is put on, the actor ties 20 to 40 pieces of short cloth around the waist by the help of a large cloth twisted rope in order to give the skirt a oval shape. He then puts the jacket etc...The actor is profusely ornamented with gar lands of beast, armlets, cupped mirrors... and the head dresses are huge and large.



1.Pacha(Green face)
(sadanam mohanan)

They are heroic, kingly and divine type. Their faces are painted green and they have large black markings around the eyes and eyebrows. The sacred mark of Vishnu on the foreheads and vermillion around the mouth. On the head they were golden crown called keshabhara kireedm Example- Nala, Bheema, Arjuna


2.Kathi( knife)
(Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair)

They are heroic, kingly and divine type. Their faces are painted green and they have large black markings around the eyes and eyebrows. The sacred mark of Vishnu on the foreheads and vermillion around the mouth. On the head they were golden crown called keshabhara kireedm Example- Nala, Bheema, Arjuna


3.Kari (Black-face)
(Kalamandalam Shijukumar)

Kari make up is used for lady-demons (or « witches » in Indian epic). Their faces are jet black with dotted red and white markings on them. They also have false breasts and same bucket shaped head dresses and black costumes as the black beard characters.

4.Thadi (beard)

There are three types of bearded of Thadi characters : Vella Thadi or white beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman ; Chu vanna Thadi or red beard for evil characters for evil characters and Karutha Thadi or black beard for the hunter. Example- Dussassana, Baka,Thrigartha


5.Minukku (lady)
(Kalarangam Gireesan)

The Minukku is used for female char acters and sages. The costume is very simple and face is painted a warm yellow tint. The fe male characters are the heroines, servants,etc . Male characters are messengers, sages, hindu priests,... Sages wear conical head dresses and most of the other wear turbans.

Addition to these are 18 special charac­ters. This are Garuda (eagle mount of Vishnu), Hamsa (Swan), Narasimha (Man-Lion, a manifestation of Vishnu),Karkotaka(snake),etc.


In kathakali each dance gestures is accompanied with some emotions, the ultimate climax is rasa. Rasa literally the essence, maybe explained in simple terms as aesthetic outcome of mood in an enjoyable form. There are nine rasas :

1. Sringara (amorous-romance) : has rati (love) as the principal mood. It is shown with a side-long glance and by slightly moving the eyebrows with asmile and laddering the face.

2. Veera (valour) : is the ultimate essence of heroism exhib ited with full open eyes, stretched eyelashes, raised eyebrows and cheeks, and a red face.

3. Karuna (compassion) : is an expression of grief (pathos). The eyes dropped down without effort, the nose is still, yhe cheeks are dragged down, the neck is bent to right and left slowly and face is held in Syamavarna (pale).

4. Adbhuta (wonder) : has Ascharya (surprise) as the principal mood. In it eyebrows are raised gracefully looking gradually forward. The eyelids are stretched side ways and cheeks and neck slightly forward.

5. Hasya (contempt) : whose principal mood is Hasya (indifference), is expressed by raising the eyebrows, drawing back the eyeballs, shrinking the nose and eyelids and gladdening the face.

6. Bhayanaka (fear) : has its principal mood, Bhaya (fright). The eyes opened wide, the eyeballs are moved side ways casting glances right and left, the lips are withdrawn inwards, the nos trils are widened, the cheeks tremble and the neck is turned both sides.

7. Bibhatsa (dislike-disgust) : where principal mood is Apprakrita (unbearable attitude). In it eye balls are drawn inward, the eye browns downward, face will have a natural colour.

8. Raudra (wrath) : the principal emotion of which is anger, is interpreted with straight forward powerful look, full open eye lids, full curved eyebrows, nostrils dilated, lips trembling with jaws highly set and red face.

9. Santa (serenity) : the principal mood of which is calmness. It has the following form. The head and neck is held in natural pose, looks upward through the eyebrows and eye lids half closed.



Precision is the key word in Kathakali for the ideas and the emotions are all communicated through physical movements. The text of the play is sung in the characteristic style known as Sopana by two singers who remain behind the actors.The lead singer holds a heavy gong that is struck with a root stick and the second singer plays large cymbals. These two artists provide the basic rhythm, the conch shell and three different types of drums. The conch shell announces gods and significant rituals. The maddalam, a large horizontal drum, allows for a change of pace and intonation ; the chenda, a vertical drum, is used for special effects ; and theidakka, a delicate-sounding drum with an hour-glass shape that indicates the presence of female char acters


Kathakali stage is very simple and is without scenery. The stage is usually an open space of ground or forecourt of Hindu temples and on the front you can see a lighted bell-metal lamp. The stage needs not more than area of about 20 sq feet. Generally 5 ft long and 4 in broad- a big bell metal lamp, a portable curtain about 12 ft long and 8 ft wide and few accessories for realism.The portable curtain (tirassila) of bright colours, which is held up by two stage hands before the per­formance start and between scenes whenever powerful or evil character appear for the first time. They stand behind the curtain and slowly brings down emitting weird sounds. This is called Thiranottam.Dais is not necessarily an essential part of the stage. A level ground in the open or in the courtyard is enough to be converted into a stage. Mats cover the space in front of the stage for the audience. Nowadays performance are given in halls with footlights, microphones, etc.