In March 2013, we attended an excellent performance of Kathakali in Fort Kochi  in the state of Kerala, South India. Kathakali, a major form of classical Indian dance originating in Kerala, features the retelling of Hindu and other ancient stories by actors in elaborate costumes and makeup. While the traditional form of Kathakali has only male characters, we did see female actors in this performance and in a different performance in Tamil Nadu. In addition to the actors, musicians perform, usually on the left side of the stage.

Kathakali performance

Before we visited India this time, we saw the picture of the main character on the cover of a book and decided that we wanted to see that actor in that place.

Because of the elaborate makeup, each performance is preceded by several hours of  preparation for the troup.  For an extra fee, we were able to observe some of the makeup preparation of the major character’s face. This painstaking preparation took an hour or so.

Makeup, made from rice paste and vegetable colors, helps the audience identify characters in the play. Makeup colors are important indicators, with green for noble characters and red for evil characters, while some red among the green indicates an evil inner nature. Below, the “lady” in the red hat is trying to seduce the main character (green face).

Kathakali seduction scene

Several scenes from the performance are shown below. With his red costuming, the character in the first picture is clearly evil.

The picture shows the major characters at curtain call.

Curtain call for Kathakali performance

While the performance was given in Sanskrit or Malayalam, neither of which we understand, the story could be inferred from the acting. The costumes were fantastic, the acting was superb, and we enjoyed the performance greatly.