Kathakali is a highly stylized classical Indian dance-drama noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion.
It originated in the country's present day state of Kerala during the 17th century and has developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming.
Kathakali is originated from a precursor dance-drama form called Ramanattam and owes it share of techniques also to Krishnanattam. The word "attam" means enactment. In short, these two forerunning forms to Kathakali dealt with presentation of the stories about Rama and Krishna.
Kathakali is considered to be a combination of five elements of fine art:
- Expressions (Natyam, the component with emphasis on facial expressions)
- Dance (Nritham, the component of dance with emphasis on rhythm and movement of hands, legs and body)
- Enactment (Nrithyam, the element of drama with emphasis on "mudras", which are hand gestures)
- Song/vocal accompaniment (Gita)
- Instrument accompaniment (Vadyam)
Even though the lyrics/literature would qualify as another independent element called Sahithyam, it is considered as a component of Gita or music, as it plays only a supplementary role to Nritham, Nrithyam and Natyam.
One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. Most often, the make-up can be classified into five basic sets namely Pachcha, Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, and Minukku. The differences between these sets lie in the predominant colours that are applied on the face.
Pachcha (meaning green) has green as the dominant colour and is used to portray noble male characters who are said to have a mixture of "Satvik" (pious) and "Rajasik" (kingly) nature. Rajasik characters having an evil streak ("tamasic"= evil) -- all the same they are anti-heroes in the play (such as the demon king Ravana) -- and portrayed with streaks of red in a green-painted face. Excessively evil characters such as demons (totally tamasic) have a predominantly red make-up and a red beard. They are called Red Beard. Tamasic characters such as uncivilised hunters and woodsmen are represented with a predominantly black make-up base and a black beard and are called black beard. Women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces and this semi-realistic category forms the fifth class.