Kathakali is an art which has evolved from many social and religious theatrical forms which existed in the southern region in ancient times.
Chakiarkoothu, Koodiyattam, Krishnattam andRamanattam are few of the ritual performing arts of Kerala which have had a direct influence on Kathakali in its form and technique.
Dance scenes depicting the square and rectangular basic positions so typical to Kathakali are seen.
For body movements and choreographical patterns, Kathakali is also indebted to the early martial arts of Kerala.
Kathakali is a blend of dance, music and acting and dramatizes stories, which are mostly adapted from the Indian epics.
It is a stylised art form, the four aspects of abhinaya – angika, aharya,vachika, satvika and the nritta, nritya and natya aspects are combined perfectly.
The dancer expresses himself through codified hastamudras and facial expressions, closely following the verses(padams) that are sung.
Kathakali derives its textual sanction from Balarama Bharatam andHastalakshana Deepika.
Kathakali is a visual art where aharya, costume and make-up are suited to the characters, as per the tenets laid down in the Natya Shastra.
The characters are grouped under certain clearly defined types like the pacha, kathi, thadi, kari or minukku.
The face of the artist is painted over to appear as though a mask is worn. The lips, the eyelashes and the eyebrows are made to look prominent. A mixture of rice paste and lime is applied to make the chutti on the face which highlights the facial make-up.
The characters in a Kathakali performance are broadly divided into satvika, rajasika and tamasika types.
Satvika characters are noble, heroic, generous and refined.
In pacha, green colour dominates and kirita (headgear) is worn by all. Krishna and Rama wear special crowns decorated with peacock feathers. The noble characters like Indra, Arjun and the Devas are some of the pacha characters.
A simple stage is used. A large oil-fed lamp is placed in front of the stage and two people hold a curtain called Tirasseela on the stage, the main dancers stand behind it before the performance.
The technical details cover every part of the body from facial muscles to fingers, eyes, hands and wrists.
The facial muscles play an important part.
The movement of the eyebrows, the eye-balls and the lower eye-lids as described in the Natya Shastra are not used to such an extent in any other dance style.
The weight of the body is on the outer edges of the feet which are slightly bent and curved.
Kathakali music follows the traditional sopana sangeet of Kerala.
It is said to be the ritual singing of the Ashtapadis on the flight of steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum.
Kathakali music also uses Carnatic ragas-the raga and tala conforming to the bhava, rasa and dance patterns (nritta and natya).