Tips to Help Beginners Prepare for the Kathakali Dance

India is a vibrant country that’s rich in culture, languages and forms of art.

Different parts of the country also differ in landscape and climate. Therefore, traveling across the country will see you experience different interesting and inquisitive things about India, especially Kerala.

Kerala’s Fort Cochin is culturally-rich and home to the oldest Jewish Synagogue that’s still active. It provides detailed yet simple vegetarian food served warm.

Kerala state in India’s southwestern region is home to various churches and temples, and receives lots of rain. This is unlike neighboring states in India. Visitors enjoy exploring the backwaters canal for boat rides.

The Kathakali dance, a form of classical Indian dance, is also typical of the state. Based on a “story play” art genre, the dance is rich in distinguishable colorful costumes, make-up and face masks that male actor-dancers adorn to perform.

Natives of Kerala speak the Malayalam language.

The Hindu art performance is popular worldwide. Kathakali is a magnificent dance that has earned the Kerala state lots of admiration. The beautiful and renowned dance has its roots in the shores of Kerala and dates back over 3 centuries ago.

The dance integrates drama, music, devotion, costumes, dance, and make up to deliver a divine experience like no other for audiences. It narrates great stories in history, especially from Indian epics. It leaves viewers spellbound at the varied intricate aspects of the performance.

Every movement in a Kathakali performance is significant. Ranging from eye flickers to single lips quiver to twirling of the fingers, every movement in the dance counts. During a performance, viewers are unable to take their eyes off the spectacular art on exhibition.

Whether you’re visiting Kerala from other parts of India or the rest of the world, you can learn how to do the Kathakali dance. However, as a beginner, there’re things you need to know. Here’re a few tips to get you started:

5 Tips to Help You Master the Kathakali Dance and Prepare for it

  • Facial paints and colors

The facial paints used in the Kathakali dance are made from organic or natural ingredients. Paint colors are applied on the faces of dancers using natural stones. The colors are rubbed gently on faces to apply the paints, making them appealing.

Coconut oil is added to the paint to give faces a glossy look and make the colors last longer. Some artists showcase how the colors are prepared prior to a performance to engage the audience in the dance preparation process.

What’s more, the different facial colors reflect the different characters in the Kathakali performance. Check them out:

  • Katti (green colors with red extensions from the sides of the nose towards the ears) – it reflects an evil, demonic or fierce character.
  • Pachha (green face) – it reflects a godly and humble character
  • Taadi (black, white or red colors) – it reflects different characters. Red denotes Bali, Sugreeva; white for Hanuman; and black for chief of decoits characters.
  • Minukku (a mix of red and yellow colors) – it reflects Rishis, Brahmins or a virtuous woman.


  • Men are the performers and actors in the Kathakali dance

Only male artists performed the Kathakali dance traditionally, playing the role of both male and female characters. Kathakali is a strenuous dance form that involves hard footwork and heavy costumes, hence the reason only men performed it.

However, over the years, women have slowly began to take part in the dance.

  • Detailed Kathakali costumes for dancers

Kathakali dances adorn elaborate costumes to dance. Apart from wearing colorful facial make-up, the artists use detailed and colorful, classical Indian dance attires.

They wear dome-shaped and oversized skirts. And, each dancer wears anything from 20 to 30 layers of clothes beneath the oversized skirts for a voluminous look.

Artists accessorize their costumes with jewelry around their wrists, necks, waist, upper arms and feet (beaded anklets known as Ghungroos). Dancers also wear large crowns for added dimension to their costumes.

  • Practice and training for the Kathakali dance

You must undergo training for at least seven years to become a professional Kathakali dancer. You’ll have to join a Kathakali school to learn the dance form. Interested dancers live in the school for the entire duration of the training.

Hours of practice are offered to help dance students master the art form, perfecting facial and eye movements, footwork, expressions, and wrist movements (also known as mudras).

Students learn everything that has to do with the dance, including singing verses, playing musical instruments, applying makeup for self and setting up the stage for performance.

Keeping physically fit is also an essential aspect of training to become a successful Kathakali dancer. Students engage in various physical activities and engage in exercises regularly.

They also play different games during their free time to help with their fitness needs. For instance, students who enjoy sports use their hoverboards like those at to keep fit.

  • The Kathakali dance tells a story

Kathakali dances are obtained from the Indian Mythological tales episodes. Facial expression, hand gestures, and footwork, among other movements are used to tell a story.

Moreover, two or three singers recite the verses in Malayalam or Sanskirt languages.

Kathakali dance performance centers usually give notes about scene performances to visitors to help them understand what they’re watching.