Kathakali, the classical dance drama of Kerala, is the most refined, scientific and stylised art form of the subcontinent. It enjoys a unique position among Indian dances.
Eloquent and stylised hand gestures (hastha mudras) and graceful and rhythmic movements charaterise this art form.
It draws its themes from the epics and mythologies of India and uses a wealth of imagery to present them before the audience.
The actor does not speak, but uses complicated hand gestures and steps to tell the story. His acting closely follows the verses sung from the background to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. Thus, Kathakali combines acting, dancing and music.
The performers use elaborate facial make-up, archaic costumes, grand headgears and ornaments, which transforms them into a type rather than a character. The characters are thus transformed into super humans, and each character is identified by the colour he sports. The chuvanna thadi (red beard) is, for example, the most aggressive and demonic character.
Kathakali, as it is known now, is only a few hundred years old. However, it roots can be traced to at least 1500 years.
Kathakali is highly demanding art form. It takes years for the learners to achieve mastery of the art.