Kathakali background, costumes, make-up and major Kathakali centres in Kerala

Kathakali takes place in Koothambalams or a stage in a village festival. Kathakali is usually performed in front of a Kalivilakku (Lamp). Enactment of a play by actors takes place to the accompaniment of music (geetha) and instruments (vadya). The orchestra of a Kathakali performance includes two drums known as the chenda and the maddalam, along with cymbals and another percussion instrument, the ela taalam. Normally, two singers provide the vocal accompaniment. The style of singing particular to Kathakali is called Sopaanam.


The headgear worn by the various characters in Kathakali are excellent specimen of intricate wood carving, an ancient speciality of the region. Even the shiny finishing with trinkets take hours of painstaking labour by expert craftsmen. Most of the ornaments donning each character are made in this fashion too.


One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. Kathakali make-up is an elaborate process lasting for over three hours. Paints used in Kathakali make-up are freshly prepared and applied to ensure correctness of rhythmic curves and precision. Kathakali veshams are of five types :

Pacha (Green)- portrays noble protagonists like King Nalan from Nalacharitham, Lord Rama, Arjuna etc.

Kathi (Knife)- portrays villainous characters like Duryodhanan in Mahabharata

Thadi (Beard)- There are three types of bearded or Thadi Veshams.

Vella Thadi or White beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman.

Chuvanna Thadi or Red beard is for evil characters like Bali in Balivadham, Rakshasas, Asuras etc

Karutha Thadi or Black beard for the hunter like the Kattalan in Nalacharitham and Kiratham Kathakali.

Kari (Black) - used for lady-demons (witches in Indian epic) like Poothana

Minukku (Prettying Up)- used for female characters and sages - Damayanthi, Bhanumathi.

Pacha Vesham

Kathi Vesham

Vella Thadi

Chuvanna Thadi

Karutha Thadi

Kari Vesham


An intensive dance training is needed to make the body flexible and supple in order to respond to unusual forms weaved in the course of dancing. To achieve fluidity, a Kathakali pupil undergoes extensive and vigorous training from an early age.

Major Kathakali Centres of


1. Kerala Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy, Trissur District.

2. P.S.V. Natyasangham, Kottakkal, Calicut District.

3. Unnayivarrier Smaraka Kalanilayam, Iringalakkuda, Thrissur District.

4. Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Pathirippala, Palakkad District.

5. Cochin Cultural Centre, Cochin, Ernakulam District

6. Art Kerala, Valanjambalam, Ernakulam District.

7. Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, Thiruvananthapuram District.

8. R.L.V. Thripunithura, Ernakulam Dt.