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A dance form from the South of India which is used as a tool for story telling.

Kathakali is a form of Indian dance-drama. It originated in the South Indian state of Kerala over 500 years ago and is considered one of the oldest dance forms in India. It is a spectacular combination of drama, dance, music and ritual. Characters with vividly painted faces and elaborate costumes re-enact stories from the Hindu epics, Mahabharatha and Ramayana.

Kathakali is considered to be a combination of five forms of fine art:
*Literature (Sahithyam)
*Music (Sangeetham)
*Painting (Chithram)
*Acting (Natyam)
*Dance (Nritham)

Kathakali plays

Almost always, the viewer is told or is supposed to have knowledge of the story being enacted before the start of a Kathakali play.

Although Kathakali predominantly uses Hindu religious texts as a source of stories for its plays, recently, as part of an attempt at popularizing the art, stories from other cultures, such as the story of Mary Magdalene from the Bible, and Shakespeare's "King Lear" have also been adapted into Kathakali scripts.

The language of the songs used for Kathakali is a mix of Malayalam and Sanskrit. Several poets like Unnayi Warrier have contributed a Kathakali script which is called "Kathakali Padam". Each "Padam" is a poem recited in one of the Karnatic music ragas.


The Kathakali show is usually conducted at night and ends in early morning. The actors will be accompanied by percussionists and singers. The lead singer controls the entire show with rythmic beats of a special musical instrument.

A Kathakali actor uses immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, to prepare for his demanding role. Training can oftenlast for around 8-10 years before the actor can be considered acceptable. In Kathakali, the story is enacted purely by the movements of the hands (called "mudras" or actions) and by facial expressions and bodily movements. A Kathakali dancer has perfect control over the facial muscles and can express the various emotions ('lasyams') with skill.

The main facial expressions of a Kathakali artist are the 'navarasams' ( 'Navarasas' in anglicised form )(literal translation: Nine Tastes, but more loosely translated as nine feelings or expressions) which are Sringaaram (amour), Haasyam (ridicule, humour), Bhayam (fear), Karunam (pathos), Rowdram (anger, wrath), Veeram (valour), Beebhatsam (disgust), Adbhutham (wonder, amazement), Saantham (tranquility, peace).

Drummers, singers, make-up artists and costumers complete the ensemble of highly trained specialists, to present a Kathakali performance.

One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. The make-up has five main parts to it namely Pacha, Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, and Minukku (meaning green, knife, black, beard or jaw, and polish). Characters are categorized according to their nature. This determines the colours used in the make-up. The faces of noble male characters, such as virtuous kings, the divine hero Rama, etc., are predominantly green. Characters of high birth who have an evil streak, such as the demon king Ravana, are allotted a similar green make-up, slashed with red marks on the cheeks. Extremely angry or excessively evil characters wear predominantly red make-up and a flowing red beard. Forest dwellers such as hunters are represented with a predominantly black make-up base. Women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces.

Source: Wikipedia

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