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A classical dance-drama style from Kerala in South India. Katha means 'story', while kali is the enacting of stories through mime and movement. Kathakali is not performed by a solo dancer, compared to other Indian classical dance styles, such as Kathak, Bharatanatyam or Odissi. Traditionally a male-only dance art form, the most striking aspect of Kathakali is its overwhelming dramatic quality and it has often been referred to as 'the theatre of imagination.


Kathakali in its present form dates back approximately 400 years. Kathakali is a product of various dance styles, martial arts and folk traditions from both Aryan and Dravidian cultures. Kathakali largely owes its present form to two kings from the 17th century: the King of Calicut, a devotee of Lord Krishna, wrote plays about his life which evolved a technique of presentation called Krishnattam. However, he would not allow his troupe to perform outside the boundaries of his kingdom. This prompted another king, ruler of Kottarakara to write plays on Rama, known as Ramanattam. These plays developed into Kathakali's system of mime and dance technique.

Kathakali technique is elaborate and stylised. Pure dance is rigorous and precise. Dancing is done on the outside of the feet, with the knees in a turned-out position. Kicks, jumps and leg extensions are used. Dramatic leaps and swaying movements are also characteristic. The dance space is usually covered in a series of squares, rectangles or circles executed to set rhythmic cycles. Costumes and make-up are elaborate, stylised and unique. The colours of the make-up denote certain characteristics while the costume is symbolic, with green coloured faces referring to good, valiant characters and patches of red around the lip denoting evil, villainous ones. Kathakali performances are usually accompanied by drums and cymbals, and devotional songs and prayers are sung in accordance with the enacted play.