Wednesday 19 Jun, 2019

About Kerala Kathakali Dance History,Costumes and Acting

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about kerala kathakali dance

Kathakali, the Cultural face of Kerala

While talking about the culture of Kerala, the southernmost state in India, the first thing comes to mind will be the green painted face of Kathakali artist with full costumes. There will not be any poster related to Kerala Tourism or any events related to Kerala and its culture which does not bear an image of Kathakali. This ancient art form has become the face of Kerala Culture and tradition.

Although Kathakali has some resemblances with temple art forms such as Kutiyattam and Krishnanattam, the differences from these art forms are also clearly visible. According to many historians, Kathakali has been metamorphosed from ancient temple art form Ramanattam. The legend goes like this.

Krishnattam, an exclusive temple art form which has been parented by Manavendra Samorine of Calicut dynasty became very popular across Kerala. Hearing about this wonderful art form, King of Kottarakkara, Vira Kerala Varma requested the king of Calicut to perform the same at Kottarakkara. However, the request was denied. Taking it as a challenge, King of Kottarakkara created an art form called “Ramanattam”. Krishnanattam was based on the stories of Lord Krishna, where the early scripts of Ramanattam were based on the Hindu epic “Ramayana”.

Ramanattam has undergone several changes in its form, style and the story line to become Kathakali. Many features from other art forms, including Mudiyattam, Padayani, Theyyam etc have been incorporated in Kathakali. Besides, the folklore art, Therukutthu has immensely influenced Kathakali and so is the Kerala martial art Kalaripayattu.

Kathakali, clearly stands apart from other temple art forms of ancient days in its structure and in essence. Similarly, unlike many ancient art forms Kathakali never flourished in the temple compounds but in courts and in the families of the elite class. In other words, Kathakali was rather a theatrical art form than a temple art right from the beginning.

Unlike most of the Classical dances, Kathakali is not a mere dance form, but it can be called as a dance drama as it depicts a story from any of the epics. The script of this dance drama is known as Attakatha and it provides a high-level flexibility for the performers to improvise.

On the stage, there will not be many decorations or any man-made sets will be used. A plain curtain, probably in white color will be the background and there will be a huge “Nilavilakku” (Traditional Lamp of Kerala) which is called as “Kalivilakku” will be kept in the center of the stage.

The Kathakali Troupe will have actors (dancers), musicians and with musical instrument players. Usually, Chenda (Traditional drum of Kerala) and Ilathalam (Cymbal) Maddalam (Barrel Shaped Drum) and Idakka (Drum with the shape of hourglass) will be used as instruments to support the music.


Probably Kathakali may be the Indian Classical Art that has elaborate costumes. Actually, the costumes made kathakali more famous and attracted many people towards it. It follows certain codes in costumes. As per the prevailing custom, Pacha or the green face is given to protagonist characters whereas Kari or black face for antagonists. Coral red is used for noble characters where Thadi (Beard) is for evil characters. Green face is provided to heroes and when it is with red spots or beard, the character is partly devilish. Minukku or yellowish orange color is used for women characters and white beard for those who are divine.

According to Hindutwa, three gunas Satwa, Rajas and thamoguna are present in all human beings and the proportions in which they are present decide the character of human being. In kathakali costumes, it is displayed clearly.


As in the case of any other Indian Classical dances, Kathakali too involves a lot of acting along with dance. Apart from facial expressions, there are several hand gestures or Mudras to express ideas and emotions. Basically, there are twenty-four major mudras and several minor ones. At the same time, there are only nine types of facial expressions which are called as “Navarasas”.

Another special feature of Kathakali that differentiates it with the rest of the Indian classical dance is the appearance of characters on stage. There will not be any special effects or light effects to introduce each character and at times the characters may come to the stage from the middle of the audience too.

Basically, there are two different styles in Kathakali, The Kidangoor style has been developed based on Kootiyattam after blending several steps and mudras from Ramanattam. Another style called Kalluvayi is being developed at Olappamanna mana which is a perfect blending of ancient Kaplingotan and Kalladikodan styles in Kathakali. This style has been adopted by Kerala Kalamandalam and hence it is more popular.

Although Kathakali has been developed with stories from different Hindu epics, it has gone beyond the limits of epics. At present many biblical stories including “Magdalena Mariyam” (Marry of Magdolin) and several Shakespeare dramas have been converted to Kathakali.

Author details:

Ravikumar Ambadi


Phone : 8185070710

Topics : Kathakali |
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