History, Evolution and Source:

  • This classical dance form. Kathakali originates primarily from the Indian state of Kerala.
  • Basic components and distinct features of this form of classical dance can be traced back to ancient Sanskrit Hindu text- ‘Natya Shastra’. Kathakali also derives its textual sanction from Balarama Bharatamand Hastalakshana Deepika
  • Dance-drama art form called ‘Krishnanattam’ and Ramanattam based on Mahabharata and Ramayana are precursor of ‘Kathakali’.



Features of the dance:

  • Kathakali is a blend of dance, music and acting and dramatizes stories, which are mostly adapted from the Indian epics.
  • The dance form combines four aspects of abhinaya – AngikaAharya,VachikaSatvikaand the NrittaNritya and Natya  are combined perfectly.
  • The dancer expresses himself through codified hastamudras and facial expressions, closely following the verses (padams)that are sung.
  • Various facial expressions in KathakaliThe body movements and choreography of this dance draws inspiration from various martial arts of Kerala
  • The attakkathasorstories are selected from the epics and myths and are written in a highly Sanskritised verse form in Malayalam. Many Malayalam writers have also contributed to the vast repertoire of Kathakali literature.
  • Kathakali dance is chiefly interpretative.
  • The characters in a Kathakali performance are broadly divided into satvikarajasikaand tamasika
Satvika Rajasika Tamasika
Noble, heroic, generous and refined Courageous people but they have an evil streak in their character The characters of the thadi (beard)
Characters Krishna and Rama. Ravana, Kamsa, Sisupala and Duryodhana etc Red beard – Evil character like Bakasura, White Beard-Hanumanta
Colour codes In pacha, green colour dominates and kirita (headgear) is worn by all. Krishna and Rama wear special crowns decorated with peacock feathers The kathi type depict anti-heroes., Evil characters like Ravana bear the ‘Tati’ (red) make-up. The moustache and the small knob called chuttippu fixed on “the tip of the nose and another in the centre of the forehead, is peculiar to the kathi character. The characters of the thadi (beard) category are the chuvanna thadi, (red beard), vellathadi (white beard) and the karutha thadi (black beard). Vellathadi or the white bearded character is generally that of Hanuman, the dancer also wears the costume of a monkey. Kari are characters whose make-up have a black base, they wear black costume depicting a hunter or forest dweller.
Satvika Rajsika Tamasika


  • Kalasams are pure dance sequences where the actor is at great liberty to express him and display his skills. The leaps, quick turns, jumps and the rhythmic co-ordination make kalasams, a joy to watch.




  • Kathakali is a visual art where aharya, costume and make-up are suited to the characters, as per the tenets laid down in the Natya Shastra.
  • The lips, the eyelashes and the eyebrows are made to look prominent. A mixture of rice paste and lime is applied to make the chuttion the face which highlights the facial make-up.
  • Songs and musical instruments
  • Kathakali music follows the traditional sopana sangeetof Kerala. It is said to be the ritual singing of the Ashtapadis on the flight of steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum. Now, Kathakali music also uses Carnatic ragas-the raga and talaconforming to the bhavarasa and dance patterns (nritta and natya). The orchestra which is also used in other traditional performing arts of Kerala, normally comprises the ChendaMaddalamChengilaIlathalamIdakka and Shankhu.

Kathakali Musical instruments


Major exponents

  • Kavungal Chathunni Panicker, a celebrated and veteran performer of this field, is a scion of the famous Kavungal family associated with ‘Kathakali’ for six generations.
  • Kalamandalam Gopi, a renowned name in ‘Kathakali’ with a career of over 30 years, is one of the most eminent representatives of the Kalluvazhi School of Kerala.
  • Other imminent ‘Kathakali’ performers include Kalamandalam Krishna Prasad, Kalamandalam Vasu Pisharody, Kalamandalam Kesavan Namboodiri and Kalanilayam Balakrishnan, Kottakal Sivaraman, Rita Ganguly etc.,