Kathakali Dance – Classical Dance of Kerala

Kathakali Dance Origination:

Kathakali dance, one of the Indian classical dance form, famous in Kerala. The word Kathakali means ‘story-play’. The classical dance of Kerala originated in the 17th century, we find the dance roots in Hindu Mythologies. Since the themes of the dance are based on the two Hindu epics ‘Ramayana’, ‘Mahabharata’. Hence the dance is the combination of literature, music, acting, and dance. The Classical dance is a combination of five forms such are 1. Natyam(expressions) 2. Nritham(dance) 3. Nrithyam(enactment) 4. Sangeetam(music) 5. Vadyam(instruments).

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The Kathakali dance has a rich, long tradition, which formed in the 17th century. The ancient tradition has been continuing from old tradition to the modern period. Even the great Kathakali dancer Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon founded Kerala Kala Mandalam, who trained to the many disciples. Even he brought some changes in Kathakali steps, style of performance of the classical dance. Hence, the dance starts at dusk and continues throughout the night. In the ancient period, the men only performed the dance as the women dancers by wearing the women costumes and performed as women. But in the modern time women also performing the dance in the wide range.

During the performance of the dance, dancers perform the dance theme with expressions, gestures, which made the spectators can be understood very easily. Hence, the composers adopting the Hindu epic themes to the dance concept. In the Kathakali dance, another important word is mudras, which is called the expressions of the eyes and the gestures of the hands.

                       Also Read: History of Kuchipudi Dance

Kathakali Dance Costumes

The dancers use heavy Kathakali Costumes, especially the makeup is unique in every direction. In the dance of Kerala, there are many characters, like Sathwika(the hero), katti(the villion), Minukku(females) and Thathi(the other characters). So it is most important to the dancers to show their characters through costumes to the audiences. During the dance performance, the spectators can easily identify the characters due to their costumes and makeup.


The Kathakali dance makeup is very elaborate, the materials are locally available naturally. The makeup men apply different colours on the face of the dancer as a mask. These Colours prepared locally by the artists only. They use rice flour for white colour, red made from Vermilion, black from soot. The colours of the makeup indicate the portraying of the character while dancing.

Kathakali Themes:

The dancers perform nearly 101 characters. In olden days all stories perform in one night. But at present, the dancers performing only 2 or 3 stories in 2-4 hours. So the audiences can easily attach to the dance and understandable about theme of the dance. The important Kathakali dance stories adapted from the Hindu mythologies like Mahabharatha and Ramayana. The stories are like Karna Shapadham, Nala Charitham and many more stories are there.

Instruments of Music:

The music for Kathakali dance is very similar to South Indian classical music. The musicians use the local instruments during the dance performance, such are Cheda, Idakka, and shuddha Madalam. The famous Sage Bharatha Muni wrote the Natyasastra over 2000 years ago. In the book, he discussed the classical dance, music, makeup, drama, and costumes. The dancers of Kathakali followed the Natyasastra which gives them how to perform. Probably the sculpture of the temples also inspired the characters of Kathakali.

In India, some dance styles also adopted from the temple rituals. In early days Brahmins and Priests only memorized the stories of Kathakali dance, later it passed to the next generation. Yet some Brahmin families migrated for the settle in new places of various parts of India and spread the culture of the dance. In olden days the kings patronized to bring the glory of Kathakali dance. Even they contributed a lot of money to the Kathakali dancers. They arranged the temples on the special occasions to perform the Classical dance of Kerala.