The Kathakali dance basically means story telling. The scenes that are enacted are emoted with much vigor and vitality to bring life to the myths and legends. This dance form highlights complex body movements and facial expressions. The characters they enact seem so real, that at some point during the performance you will feel as though they have swapped their real identities with the characters. Since these complex and intricate body movements require suppleness of muscles, the Kathakali performers have to undergo special massage for their arms, necks and faces. Since the music does not have lyrics, the dance is performed on drum beats and other instruments.
The make-up is very fine and minute details are taken care of. The make-up of a single character can takes hours together. The costumes comprise of heavy multi layered skirt, heavy ornaments and an elaborate headgear. The make up is done according to 5 main types of characters. Each color has its own importance and highlights the significance of the character and the dominant role of that character. The 5 main types of make up are:
- Pacha (Green): The color green is used for noble characters.
- Kathi (Knife): This make up is used to portray villainous characters.
- Kari (Black): Black colored make up is used for demonesses.
- Minukku (Prettying Up): This make up is used for female characters and sages.
- Thadi (Beard): Some characters require a beard and the bearded look is again of 3 types:
White Beard: For super human noble characters, like monkey God Hanuman.
Red Beard: Used for evil characters.
Black Beard: Used for the character of a hunter.