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Kerala owes its transnational fame to this nearly 300 years old classical dance form which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime. It is said to have evolved from other performing arts like Kootiyattam, Krishnanattam and Kalarippayattu. Kathakali explicates ideas and stories from the Indian epics and Puranas.

Presented in the temple precincts after dusk falls, Kathakali is heralded by the Kelikottu or the beating of drums and to the accompaniment of the Chengila (gong). The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music, drama and dance are unparallelled in any other art form.

Kathakali Make-up

Costume is elaborate with the face painted up. Great importance is laid on the Vesham or make-up which are of five types - Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Kari and Minukku.

The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partly due to its d├ęcor, part of which is the kireetam or huge headgear and the kanchukam the over sized jackets, and a long skirt worn over a thick padding of cushions. The identity of the actor is completely mutilated to create a super human being of larger-than-life proportion.

Pacha (Green)

Pacha Vehsam or the green make-up portray noble protagonists.

Kathi (Knife)

Kathi Vesham portrays villainous characters.

Thadi (Beard)

There are three types of bearded or Thadi Veshams.

"Vella Thadi" or White beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman.
"Chuvanna Thadi" or Red beard meant for evil characters.
"Karutha Thadi" or Black beard for the hunter.

Kari (Black)

Kari Vesham is used for she-demons.

Minukku (Prettying Up)

The "Minukku Vesham" is used for female characters and sages.


Mudra is a stylized sign language used to depict an idea, a situation or a state of being. A Kathakali actor enacts his ideas through mudras. For this the actor follows a systematic sign language based on Hastalakshana Deepika, a treatise on the language of hand gestures.

Kathakali Music

Kathakali orchestra is formed of two varieties of drums - the maddalam and chenda; the chengila which is a bell metal gong and the ilathalam or cymbals.

Kathakali Training

Students of Kathakali have to undergo rigorous training replete with oil massages and separate exercises for eyes, lips, cheeks, mouth and neck. Abhinaya or expression is of prime importance as is nritya or dance and geetham or singing.

Together with highly evocative facial expressions, the mudras and the music both vocal and instrumental, Kathakali unfolds stories from a bygone era in a lofty style reminiscent of the Greek plays. Kerala Kalamandalam is the prominent institution imparting Kathakali training in the traditional way.