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What is Kathakali?


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Classical South Indian Dance Form - Kathakali, Kerala, India

Visually impacting Dance Form from India - Kathakali - Story + Play

What is Kathakali?
Kathakali is a traditional Indian dance form of Kerala, in India. Owing to its signature style of dance and drama, Kathakali is also recognised as one of the oldest and most awe-inspiring forms of theatre, all across the world.

Kathakali Dance Themes Kathakali dance is deeply routed in Hindu mythology. This is why, Kathakali dancers / actors usually depict characters from the Ramayan and the Mahabharata. During their performance, stories from these mythological epics are sung while the Kathakali dancers act out the stories. Hence, Kathakali dance is a beautiful amalgamation of pure dance and abhinaya. There was a time when Kathakali dance was performed by men only. However, with time, things changed. Today, this dance form is performed by both, men and women. Kathakali performances generally last for a number of hours and are considered to be quite long.

Defining Elements of Kathakali Dance & Performance & Dance Among all the traditional Indian dance forms, Kathakali is considered to be one of the most visually impacting - a beautiful and enthralling mix of story and play.

  • Kathakali dancers have their own unique style which is larger-than-life & extremely eye catching.
  • Dancers make use of a large number of intricate facial expressions, eye movements and interesting hand gestures during their performances to depict different emotions. It is interesting to note how Kathakali dancers enact and depict so many emotions and stories without saying a word.


  • Kathakali dancers can be easily recognised with their signature costumes and makeup, especially their eye makeup. The main aspects of the makeup includes painted faces, elongated eyes and eye brows as well as bright red and prominent lips. The 5 main types of make-up or faces include Kari, Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, & Minukku.
  • Musical Instruments such as the Chenda, Maddala, Cymbals and Gong provide accompanying music.

Kathakali Dance Costume - Kathakali dancers wear beautiful, bright colored and dramatic clothes which are stitched to perfection. The large head gear / crown is made of wood and is one of the defining features of a Kathakali dancer.

Besides the clothes, Kathakali dancers also wear beautiful and elaborate ornaments on their arms, hands, neck, ears and head etc.

Famous Kathakali Dancers

Some of the well known masters of Kathakali Dance include
  • Kalamandalam Gopi
  • Vasu Pisharody
  • Sivaraman
  • Ramankutty Nair
  • Krishna Prasad

Contributions are Invited Are you a Kathakali Dancer? To add greater value to this page, we invite you to contribute your picture in your traditional Kathakali dance costume for inclusion on this webpage. We'll surely add your name under the picture as a token of thanks (Courtesy:) Email us at [email protected]

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