Kathakali performers use a luxuriant costume. Characters have their faces elaborately painted and they wear stylized costumes and tall headdresses. Great importance is laid on the Vesham or make-up which are of five types – Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Kari and Minukku. The colours used in the make-up are determined by the nature of the characters. The costumes in Kathakali represents the three qualities of nature viz. satya (nobility), rajas (aggressiveness) and tamas (darkness) represented by pacha, kathi and thadi respectively. Pacha Vesham (Green) in Kathakali Dance
The faces of noble male protagonists, such as virtuous kings, the divine hero Rama, etc., are predominantly green.
Kathi Vesham (Knife)
Kathi vesham portrays villainous characters. Characters of high birth who have an evil streak, such as the asura king Ravana, are also given a similar green make-up, slashed with red marks on the cheeks.
Thadi Vesham (Beard)
Superhuman monkeys like Hanuman, and Nandikeswara are characterized by Vella Thadi (White beard).
Chuvanna Thadi (Red beard) is used to portray extremely angry or excessively evil characters.
Forest dwellers such as hunters are represented with a predominantly black make-up called Karutha Thadi (Black beard).
Kari Vesham (Black)
Kari vesham is used to portray she-demons.
Woman role in Kathakali
Minukku vesham represents women and ascetics who have lustrous, yellowish faces.
There are specialists in the green room who help the actors in their dressing. In fact, the makeup is so luxuriant that it is more like a mask than just make-up. These extraordinary costumes and make-up serve to raise the performers above the level of mere mortals that, the audiences are taken into an ecstatic world that the characters replicate onstage.
Kathakali Mudras – Symbols used in Kathakali
A Kathakali actor enacts his ideas through Mudras. There are 24 main mudras and numerous other lesser mudras and these can be again classified into ‘Samaana-mudras’ (one mudra symbolizing two entities) or misra-mudras (both the hands are used to show these mudras).
Kathakali Music and Orchestration
The Kathakali music provides a perfect background to the performance. Chenda, maddalam, chengila and elathalam are the four instruments used to provide the instrumental background (melam) for kathakali. Normally, two singers provide the vocal accompaniment. The style of singing particular to Kathakali is called Sopana sangeetham (Sopana Music). Of the two singers, the first singer (pinnani) keeps the steady beat of the thala (rhythmic pattern) by using the chengila (gongs), made of bell metal.
Painted face of a kathakali performer
The Kathakali show is usually conducted at night and ends in early morning. The most popular stories enacted are Nala Charitam (Story of a king betrayed by Gods), Duryodhana Vadham (from Mahabharata), Kalyanasowgandhikam (Mahabharata), Keechaka Vadham (Mahabharata), Kiratham (Mahabharata), Karna Shapadham (Mahabharata) etc.
As part of popularization of the dance form, Shakespeare’s King Lear, the Biblical story of Mary Magdalin etc… were composed in Kathakali script recently.
Kathakali which symbolizes the visual art of Kerala has now developed to be qualified as a universal art. The main reason for its appeal is its attractiveness gained by the perfect blending of numerous varieties of fine arts.