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Performance in the Kathakali Dance


Kathakali Dance performance is a major social event. They generally start at dusk and go through out the night. Kathakali is usually performed only by men. Female characters are portrayed by men dressed in women’s costume. However, in recent years, women have started to become Kathakali dancers. Kathakali performance mostly takes place on a temple premises or at the house of a local landlord. The Kathakali tradition dates back to the 17th century.

Like all other dance forms Kathakali has also undergone changes over the time. In Kathakali emphasis is given more on “Aharya Abhinaya”, the use of costumes, ornaments and facial make-up. It is interesting to note that Kathakali is the only Indian dance form in which the entire body, both skeleton and muscles, down to even the smallest facial muscle are used to portray emotion. When Kathakali dance is being performed the text of the drama or the story is sung for the dancer and is the baseline for his or her interpretation.

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. This classification of characters according to Zarrilli reflects the three Gunas namely sattva (goodness, virtuous, harmonious, constructive), rajas (passion, egoistic, dynamic, action, aimless), and tamas (darkness, viciousness, chaotic, destructive) of the ‘Gu?a’ theory of personalities that originated in the age-old ‘Samkhya’ school of Hindu philosophy.

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