A huge figure wearing elaborated and heavy outfit including headdress, layers of skirt and jewellery, his big red eyes are rolling on a green colored face and his fingers are showing certain signs. Yes… I am talking about Kathakali, the ancient dance form.

Originated from the dance drama form Ramanattam, Kathakali is a classical Indian Dance Drama. Kathakali is a unique combination of literature, expression, dance, enactment, music and painting. The word Kathakali has derived from a Sanskrit word that literally means Story telling. Though only few are staged these days there are almost 101 Classical Kathakali stories. The most popular among the 101 stories are Nalacharitam, Duryodhana Vadham, Kalyanasougandhikam and Keechakavadham. The language used to tell the story is Manipravalam.

Traditionally, a Kathakali performance is usually conducted at night and ends in early morning. Nowadays it isn’t difficult to see performances as short as three hours or even lesser. Kathakali is performed in front of huge lamps know as “Kalivilakku”. The historic representation in Kathakali is a four fold scheme. The first is Angika that is related to the movements of body and limbs. Second is Vachika that is connected to vocal presentations of the performer and is focussed on the pronunciation, modulation of voice accents & percussion. Third is Satvika, which is simply the portrayal of psychic condition, and the last one is Ahraya that includes costume, make up, stage props etc.

A Kathakali actor uses immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from regimented training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, to prepare for his demanding role. The expressions are derived from Natyashastra and are classified into nine as in most Indian classical art forms. The main facial expressions of a Kathakali artist are the ‘Navarasas’. The performer has to be very careful regarding the hand movement. The performers are trained to connote over five hundred words with eye expressions and sixty-four basic hand poses. It requires a rigorous training to make the body flexible.
The make-up in Kathakali is quite bright and colourful. the make-up can be classified into five basic sets namely Pachcha, Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, and Minukku.It is so impressive that the tone and colours depict the nature of the characters. If the performer’s face is coloured green, it is the hero of the story. Similarly, the villains have red or black faces and the holy men & women have yellow faces. The performer has to undergo a long make up session that can last for four to five hours. The herbal facial paint is made of rice power and natural colors. They perform wearing elaborated and heavy outfits including headdress, layers of skirts, and jewellery.
The art of Kathakali is beautiful with natural and graceful movements, elaborate gestures, picturesque costumes, grand harmonic make-up suggested by herbal plants of the forests, and the vigorous & triumphant music. This art form was evolved in the Malabar region, but today is directly linked with Kerala’s soul.

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