Kathakali literally means “story-telling by pantomime”. It is based on the union of literature, music, drama and painting and combines drama, dance, music and tradition. It was originally developed as an entertainment for rich Maharajas and feudal families of the 15th century. Later, also Hindu temples were chosen as performance locations, and Kathakali finally became a theatre for the people. Still today, in Kerala Kathakali performances are popular for young and old. A typical performance takes some 8 – 10 hours, from the evening to the early morning hours.
The actors don’t speak - the performances are completely based on facial expressions, movements and gestures of the actors. The topics of Kathakali are usually taken from Hindi legends and “puranas” where heroic fights between gods and demons are common themes. The characters arise from three spheres: the world of gods, the world of demons and of the human world. A singer and some percussionists accompany the pantomimic performance and the actual plot is being sung in narrative style including dialogues in Malayalam language.
The actors make use of encoded facial expressions and hand and body movements that are familiar to the local audience which is therefore able to “read” the performance. There are for instance nine basic facial expressions which stand for love, contempt, pathos, anger, valour, fear, disgust, wonder and peace.
Another characteristic feature of Kathakali are the extravagant costumes and painted mask-like faces. Applying the Kathakali make-up is a slow transformation of the actors from mortal beings to immortal divinities and demons. This metamorphosis takes place in front of the audience and takes around 2 – 3 hours until the actors are fully costumed and painted. By use of natural pigments such as manayola, the actor is being transformed step by step into a legendary creature. With the enormous head-dress as a part of the costume, the actor further adopts a height beyond human nature. Every figure has a characteristic facial painting and a particularly made costume.
Kathakali Watching, Dance and/or Make-Up learning
At Cochin (Ernakulam) it is possible for you to learn the wonderful art of Kathakali in one of the leading Kathakali schools. However, the school expects that you are serious about wanting to learn it. Previous experience or skills of western acting, dance or other performing arts are certainly helpful if you want to learn Kathakali, but not a requirement. Men and women can participate; it is possible to start at any time.
Location: Cochin/Kerala, India
Price: In Tab "Rate"
- In our video about Cochin (in Tab "Cochin"), you see a snippet of a Kathakali performance
Feedback from Mathilde from France
Rate for months April - October:
Plus 20 €/Person/week
- Lessons 5 times a week for 2 hours each with a private teacher
- Accommodation as booked in guest house in Fort Kochi without meals
- Airport transfers from/to Cochin International (COK) during arrival/departure