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Kathakali Dance | Indian Classical Dance

Kathakali dance is a classic Indian dance form. The tradition of dance drama in Kerala is very old. With the passage of time, these dance dramas took on new forms and from that, the present Kathakali emerged. Mutiyattam and Kutiyattam were the ancient dance dramas of Kerala. The characters acted and sang by themselves. The later Chakyar Kuttu dance was more advanced. Following this tradition, in 1657, King Zamorin of Calicut created a dance drama based on the life of Krishna called Krishnanattam.

Kathakali Dance

History of Kathakali Dance

Krishnanattam was held only in Guruvayur temple. He was impressed by the king of Kottarakkara country. He called two Brahmins from his kingdom. This king himself was a great actor. He created a new dance drama with the help of Brahmins called Ramanattam dance. Instead of using masks in the past, costumes were used in this dance. The hand gestures that were there were made more meaningful and developed. The orchestra was changing. Since then, the characters themselves have stopped singing and dialogues.

The orchestra consisted of two independent singers. These new changes increased the speed and passion of the dance. In this dance drama, stories about the life of Lord Ramchandra are danced. These Krishnanattam and Ramanattam dance dramas created the popular Kathakali dance.

Kathakali Dance Makeup

Kathakali makeup uses six colors: white (vela), yellow (manna), green (pachcha), blue (blue), black (karup) and red (chuvapp). Rice soaked in water for 4 to 6 hours to make it white, it smells fine and during evening make-up, it is mixed with a certain amount of edible lime in water. Other colors are made in coconut oil. In addition, mica powder is used to bring dry kumkum and shine.

In Kathakali, the one who does makeup is called ‘Chuttikkaran’. From the earlobes to the chin, a special make-up made of a mixture of rice and lime on the lower jaw is termed as ‘chutti’. This is another form of male makeup. It takes a long time to apply the makeup. Therefore, it is customary to kiss the character while he is asleep. But nowadays the practice of using a thick paper cutter to save time is slowly becoming commonplace. Dusshasana is covered with a round piece of paper called ‘Katesh’ from the nostrils to the forehead.

They make two long balls from seaweed and stick one on the tip of the nose and the other on the forehead (mukkel chutti, neti chutti). These are white in appearance. Makeup of eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips etc. is done by the person concerned. After four or five minutes, it turns red, which is wrapped in a cloth and before the experiment, the seeds are soaked in water and two pieces are placed one by one in the cavity of both eyelids. So the eyes turn red in four to five minutes.

Kathakali Dance 3

Kathakali Dance Costume

The male characters wear a robe (Ututtu Ket) that looks like an inflated skirt. It has a jhuli (pattuwal-munti) and a golden waistband (patiaranyanam). Depending on the role, white, red, black, blue, hairy full sleeved jacket (kuppayam‌) is worn.

On the wrist, there are other costumes like pochi (wala, katakamtra), dandavar bahubhushane (tolaputta parattikkamani), galyakkollaram‌, kaluttaram‌, four uparani (uttariyam‌) released from the shoulder. The ends of the accessories are covered with gondola-like flowers. Nowadays, they put mirrors in them and while the experiments are going on, the characters look in the mirror to see if their costumes are in good condition.

Shirobhushan (loss crown) is also used. The hair is tied back. On the forehead are bhalpatti and bead garlands (chuttittuni, chattinata). There is a method of applying artificial long hair (chamaramr) made from wound, flax or hemp. Sattvik, Rajasik and Tamasik are the distinctions of masculinity. There is a slight difference between them. Male characters also use artificial silver nails. Simple costumes of female characters are considered sattvic.

Brahmins and Naradamunis wear simple attire. Then the lower end of the nirya is pushed back from the right to the left and the right end is pushed back to the right. The upper bouts featured two cutaways, for easier access to the higher frets. From this, three straps are tied. All other ornaments are similar to men’s ornaments.

Next to the ears is the earlobe (katila) and to the left of the head is the kalta ambada (konta). They tie a necklace of pearls on their foreheads and finally take a silk veil (Urumal) from the hem to the fingertips. A coward is a clown. It holds your clothes and jewelry upside down. Kali, Dusshasana and Hanuman have more black, red and white beards respectively. Hanuman’s crown is round (Vattamuti).

Kathakali Dance 2


Kuttampalamra (theater) built in some temples, where there is no theater, is used as a stage in the temple precincts or in a courtyard with four pillars at four corners, horizontal bamboo on top and coconut woven bushes on top. People sit on all three sides of it. There is no curtain on the front and back of the stage, but at the beginning and end of the entrance, two men wearing Lungi (vesti) hold a curtain (diagonal) in front of the audience.

At night, Nrityadeep uses a large samai about a quarter of a meter high. At that time, one of the speeches was aimed at the dancers and the other at the audience, which meant that the stage was set. The other thing on the stage is the Urals. They use it upside down to stand and sit like a stool. Certain characters stand with one foot on it, that feels big elevated.

Kathakali Dance Music

In Kathakali, Sopan or Soman music was used in the past. This is the current practice. Kathakali has a total of 130 stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata tied in ragtala. They use 50-60 different rams. That is the practice of singing. Most of the stories start with Srungapada and end with Dhan Raag.


Only 6 rhythms are used in Kathakali. These are considered as independent rhythms of Kerala province. The names of these rhythms are: (1) Panchari, (2) Triputa, (3) Muriyatanta, (4) Champata, (5) Champav (6) Atanta. They are 6, 7, 7, 8, 10, 14 respectively.

Kathakali Dance Play

Kathakali play in the village is started in four ways:

1. They play percussion instruments at sunset, it is called ‘Kelikottru’.

2. Rangdeep (Arangukeli) is lit during the experiment.

3. When the experiment starts, the orchestra comes back and stands. The screen is held in front of the audience as soon as the percussion begins. The characters enter the sequence and end the dance form called ‘Totyamtra’ inside the screen.

4. Then the Vandan Shlok (Purappatu Tolil) is started and the dance (Purappat) begins and the curtain is brought down gradually. The curtain bearers take it and leave. The singer describes in the verse who will enter as the narrator. They enter accordingly and act on the lyricist according to the occasion. They just stop singing and dance to the percussion. Here the characters get a chance to show their independent skills.


Kathakali dance songs are called ‘Kalashamtra’.

  1. Roundabouts around the stage
  2. Lyrics between two lines of a song (iratti or itakkalasham)
  3. Ball that comes as a complement again after coming together (Atakkam‌)
  4. Speech to be taken at the time of any decision during the challenge and at the end of admission (Etuttukalasham)
  5. Large dance ball in different rhythms (Valiyakalasham and Ashta Kalasham)

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