Kathakali Dance

Kathakali Dance


  • Kathakali’, an important genre in the Indian classical dance form, is associated with storytelling form of this art.
  • It is the dance drama from the south Indian state of Kerala.
  • Similar to other Indian classical dance arts, the story in ‘Kathakali’ is also communicated to audience through excellent footwork and impressive gestures of face and hands complimented with music and vocal performance.
  • However it can be distinguished from the others through the intricate and vivid make-up, unique face masks and costumes worn by dancers.
  • Traditionally performed by male dancers, it developed in courts and theatres of Hindu regions contrary to other Indian classical dances which predominantly developed in Hindu temples and monastic schools.
  • Although not clearly traceable, this classical dance form is considered to have originated from temple and folk arts that trace back to 1st millennium CE or before.
  • ‘Kathakali’ incorporates the most intricate make-up code, costume, face masks, head dress and brightly painted faces among all Indian classical dance forms.

  • Its unique costume, accessories and make-up complimented with spectacular performance, music and lightings bringing life to the characters of the great epics and legends attracts and flabbergasts both young and the old thus creating a surreal world around.
  • The make-up code followed in ‘Kathakali’ conventionally typifies the characters of the acts categorising them as gods, goddesses, saints, animals, demons, and demonesses among others.
  • ‘Kathakali’ encompass seven fundamental make-up codes which are ‘Pacca’ (green), ‘Minukku’, ‘Teppu’, ‘Kari’ (black), ‘Tati’, ‘Payuppu’ (ripe) and ‘Katti’ (knife).
  • A character with ‘Pacca’ make-up and brightly coral red coloured lips depicts gods, sages and noble characters like Shiva, Krishna, Rama and Arjuna.
  • A ‘Minukku’ make-up using orange, saffron or yellow colour depicts virtuous and good female characters like Sita and Panchali.
  • The colour code for women and monks is yellow. A divine or virtuous character is represented with a Vella Thadi make-up having a white beard.
  • Special characters like Jatayu and Garuda are adorned with a ‘Teppu’ make-up, while ‘Kari’ (black) is the code for characters like hunters and forest inhabitants.
  • Black is also used for representing demonesses and unreliable characters with distinctive red patches.
  • Evil characters like Ravana bear the ‘Tati’ (red) make-up.
  • Head gears and face masks help emphasize the face make-up which is prepared from colours extracted from vegetables and rice paste.
  • It takes several hours to complete the entire get up of all the actor-dancers of a play thus bringing out the personality of each character.

Instruments & Music :

  • A ‘Kathakali’ performance includes various instruments that encompass three major drums namely ‘Itaykka’, ‘Centa’ and ‘Maddalam’.
  • Music plays a significant role in this form of classical art creating variations of tones setting and corresponding to the mood of a particular scene.


  • Bharatanatyam, a pre-eminent Indian classical dance form presumably the oldest classical dance heritage of India is regarded as mother of many other Indian classical dance forms.
  • Conventionally a solo dance performed only by women, it initiated in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu and eventually flourished in South India.

  • Theoretical base of this form traces back to ‘Natya Shastra’, the ancient Sanskrit Hindu text on the performing arts.
  • A form of illustrative anecdote of Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas emoted by dancer with excellent footwork and impressive gestures its performance repertoire includes nrita, nritya and natya.
  • Accompanists include a singer, music and particularly the guru who directs and conducts the performance.
  • It also continues to inspire several art forms including paintings and sculptures starting from the spectacular 6th to 9th century CE temple sculptures.

History & Evolution:

  • According to the Hindu tradition the name of the dance form was derived by joining two words ‘Bharata’ and Natyam’.
  • ‘Natyam in Sanskrit means dance and ‘Bharata’ is a mnemonic comprising ‘bha’, ‘ra’ and ‘ta’ which respectively means ‘bhava’ that is emotion and feelings; ‘raga’ that is melody; and ‘tala’ that is rhythm.
  • Thus, traditionally the word refers to a dance form where bhava, raga and tala are expressed.
  • The theoretical base of this dance form, which is also referred as Sadir, trace back to ancient Indian theatrologist and musicologist, Bharata Muni’s Sanskrit Hindu text on the performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’.
  • The text’s first complete version was presumably completed between 200 BCE to 200 CE, however such timeframe also varies between 500 BCE and 500 CE.
  • According to legends Lord Brahma revealed Bharatanatyam to the sage Bharata who then encoded this holy dance form in Natya Shastra

Association with Devadasi Culture:

  • Originating in Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu and nearby regions, Bharatanatyam soon prospered in other South Indian temples.
  • According to some sources the Devadasi culture dating back to 300 BCE to 300 CE evolved under the auspices of the royals that saw the temple dancers called Devadasis, who were dedicated to serve the Lord as dasis or servants, performing the dance form.
  • Eventually the Devadasi culture became an integral part of rituals in South Indian temples.

Instruments & Music :

  • The Bharatnatyam dancer is accompanied by a nattuvanar (or taladhari) that is a vocalist who generally conducts the whole performance, a part often executed by the guru.
  • The person can also play the cymbals or any other instrument.
  • The music associated with Bharatanatyam is in South India’s Carnatic style and instruments played comprise of cymbals, the flute, a long pipe horn called nagaswaram, a drum called mridangam and veena.
  • The verses recited during performance are in Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu.

Syllabus: Prelims