[Travel] Kerala, Kathakali, the Vivid Metamorphosis of a Colorful Story

So far, I love my experience in South India, Kerala. The old town in Kochi is lovely and trying the Kettuvallam or houseboat to explore the backwater Alleppey or Alappuzha is my favorite thing to do in India. In the afternoon, I reserved a ticket to watch Kathakali with several of the hostel guests at the Cochin Cultural Center. Entry fee 100₹.

Kathakali (Malayalam: കഥകളി, kathakaḷi) is the Southern India dance or story play with colorful make-up, costumes and all-male cast players but in modern time, the troupe have women artists. The word Kathakali derived from the word “Katha” (Sanskrit: “कथा”, story, conversation, take)  and “kali” (from Kala, “कला”, performance and art).

The oral story is told with music and Malayalam language native to Kerala region. The stories are taken mainly from mythology, religious and spiritual legend, Sanskrit text such as Natya Shastra, and modern Shakespeare or other Western stories.


It’s fascinating. Normally when we watch performance like this back in my home country, the process from actor transformation to the character they played is not for show. Here we got to see the first segment when the actors putting on the make up. It is said that the process is a ceremony it self, where a mortal becomes God. A metamorphosis of the human being into something other worldly. 

There are seven types of ‘paint’ make up in KathakaliPacha (green), Pazhuppu (ripe), Kathi (knife), Kari, Thaadi, Minukka and Teppu. The ‘good’ men or gods are usually painted green with red lips and Tati, red, reserved for the ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ beings and Kari (black) for beings from the darkness. This is much like the Indonesian version of wayang or wayang orang, the characters painted red are mostly ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ men. Yellow is for monk or medicine men and women. Minukka (radiant, shining) are usually reserved for female characters. Vella Thadi or beard for divine beings or wise men. Teppu are characters from Hindu mythology,




The next part is all about body language, or hand language to be exact. There are set of hand signs (mudras) correspond with emotions and mood express by the gestures. The 24 mudras and 9 facial expression, navarasas, followed Hastha Lakshanadeepika and sanskrit text Natya Shastra.



The 9 facial expression, navarasas express 9 emotions (bhava) such as: ringara expresses Rati (love, pleasure, delight), Hasya expresses Hasa (comic, laugh, mocking), Karuna expresses Shoka (pathetic, sad), Raudra expresses Krodha (anger, fury), Vira expresses Utsaha (vigor, enthusiasm, heroic), Bhayanaka expresses Bhaya (fear, concern, worry), Bibhatsa expresses Jugupsa (disgust, repulsive), Adbhuta expresses Vismaya (wondrous, marvel, curious) and Shanta expresses Sama (peace, tranquility).







The last part is about Gods and Demons, of men and love and betrayal. I don’t understand most of the story my self. The interesting part here is the make up, as explain above and the meaning. The main character, the son of Indra, Jayantha, have the Pacha (green), and hint of red and black, signifying he has a complex character and human, as they says, has flaws or inner darkness.


Then there’s the demoness, Nakrathundi, who falls in love with the guy, and disguise herself as a lady. She has a yellowed face, Minukka (radiant, shining), with reddish blush prominent on her face, signaling that she’s not who she is (not human, demoness, evil) and try to trick our hero with her charms.


Through their dialogue, sign language (mudras) and facial expression (navarasas) and body language, they told the story and express their feelings. From flirting and reluctant attraction, to love and scorn lover. Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn. But as the story should have good defeating evil, Jayantha wounded Nakrathundi as he refused to marry her.







Eh, I thought he’s going to kill her. He dances in triumph as she dance/spin off screen (presumedly back to the dark shadow hell) as the stage fade to black.

Very interesting if I say so my self.

Alas, the night as we say, fallen, I’m sort of tired myself. We have dinner nearby and retired to bed for the night. Tomorrow is another journey, another flight to Mumbai.

Kerala Trip:

Source: Wikipedia, Travelwiki, India Eye Witness Travel,  Cochin Cultural Center





2 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s