Kathakali means "story Dance" i.e "Katha" means story and "Kali" stands for dance. In Kathakali, the make-up is very elaborate and intricate, and each character has a set mode which is strictly observed. Red green, black, yellow, orange. These are the predominant colours in Kathakali make-up. The colours used have a significance and a direct bearing on the characters. This is based on the concept of three gunas, namely satvik, rajasik and tamasik.
it is a performance where the actors depict characters from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata and from the Puranas (ancient scriptures). Adorned with elaborately painted faces, headgears and grand costumes, the dancers are accompanied by drummers and vocalists. Ritual traditions like Theyyams, Mudiyattam and the martial arts of Kerala played a major role in shaping the dance into its present form. The great poet Vallathol rediscovered Kathakali and established the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1932.
The curtain symbolises maya, illusion. From behind the curtain comes the invigorating sound of OM from a drum. As the Omkara goes on, ritual is performed behind the curtain, prayers to the various deities to push away maya and sanctify the stage. There is the sound of the drums, cymbals... and slowly the curtain is withdrawn...the play begins...The huge brass lamp glows brilliantly and beyond the lamp stands the players.
Most important of the Indian dance drama style is Kathakali from Kerala. The stories for enacting Kathakali are taken mostly from the great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha.
The dance is rugged and expansive, the music shrill and piercing, the emotional representation rambling and exaggerated. The costumes, head dresses and ornaments are gorgeous and together with the make-up impart Kathakali a rather weird and fantastic aspect. This is a form of dance formerly confined only to the festival stages in temples.