Kathakali represents a happy synthesis of all that is best in dance, drama and music. It has been recognized by connoisseurs of art the world over as a “total art form of immense sophistication and power”. A number of enthusiasts of the art patronized it and introduced significant innovations with a view of making it more popular and attractive.
Kathakali is distinguished by several unique features. It is chiefly a male art and the dancing is mostly of the masculine type. The position taken by the actor is angular. He never stands erect while acting, his knees beings spread out and his legs forming a rhombus, his hands bent at the elbow and his palms on his hips. The outer feet are never flat on the ground and still the actor maintains a perfect balance. The female character is lasya which is gentle and grateful. This is particularly evident in love scenes. The actors of Kathakali do not speak, but enact dialogues called “padams” sung by singers. The acting is done through facial expressions and hand gestures. The art of Kathakali excels in the presentation of the most beautiful and the most violent scenes with equal skill.
Kathakali performance begins at 8pm and goes until dawn the next morning. It is usually based on the stories from the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The characters represent the mythological being of the 3 world. The upper consist of devas or gods, the middle world of humans and the nether world is of asuras or demons.
The most distinctive characteristic of Kathakali is its dance costume. In Kathakali the makeup is very intricate and the costumes are very large and heavy. There are several kinds of Kathakali costumes namely, Sathwika (the hero), Kathi (the villan), Minukku (females) and Thadi.Each character in Kathakali dance is immediately recognizable by characteristic make up and costume. The make up is so heavy that it looks like a mask.