Kathakali Traditional Dance, a unique form of artistic expression

Kathakali is a unique and distinctive form of dance native to the Indian state of Kerala. It is considered to be one of India’s most esteemed artistic styles and a magnificent achievement of the imagination. This stylized form of entertainment featuring a blending of dance and drama enacts stories from Hindu myth and legend, such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana and other epics. In its original form the dance form only featured men, but in latter times women too have become kathakali exponents.

Kathakali is a combination of pure dance elements alongside mime gestures. It is a very demanding form of expression as the entire body, including all the muscles are involved in the task of conveying the essence of the drama. Down to the most minute facial expression, every part of the dancer’s body conveys meaning and substance. Conveying emotion without any kind of utterance is the objective of the dancer; he is accompanied by singers who provide the text of the story and musicians who provide the instrumental backdrop. The artistes perform exquisite interpretive dancing, with stylized histrionic gestures.


One of the most noticeable aspects of this dance form is the importance given to ornaments, facial makeup and costumes. The distinctive facial makeup takes many hours to create, and dancers are typically trained to undertake this task on their own. A striking feature is that the makeup varies according to the nature of the character. Green makeup is employed for a divine or noble character like Lord Rama. Green with red stripes signifies an individual of noble birth who has elements of evil, such as Ravana. Black makeup is reserved for demons, whilst yellow is employed for an ascetic or female role.

Kathakali costumes are elaborate and feature massive headgear constructed of lightweight wood. These are decorated with coloured stones, mirrors, and glistening pieces of metal. Billowing skirts are worn along with many pieces of jewellery like bracelets, anklets, chin caps and rings. Dancers portraying evil roles also wear beards and talons to depict their wicked nature.

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Thanuja Silva is a travel writer who writes under the pen name Auburn Silver. She has a passion for fashion and a deep interest in admiring new and exotic attractions around the world.


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