best for small must for all
Home city guide kathakali in kochi

Kathakali – The Main Dance Form In Kochi

Kathakali in Kochi
(Source: Flickr)

Kathakali – the main dance form in Kochi, is a part of the city’s identity. The word Kathakali literally means “story-play” and is a famous form of dance drama not just in south India but all over the world. The themes of Kathakali are surrounded around stories from the epics, Mahabharata, Ramayana as well as the Puranas (ancient scriptures).

Kathakali is noted for its highly stylized presentation, amazing costumes and heavy make-up of the dancers. The dance form is performed through elaborate gestures and detailed body movements, coupled with playback music and complementary percussion. Other things that are unique to this kind of dance form are huge skirts, intricate masks and large head-dresses.

History of Kathakali Dance

It is popularly believed that Kathakali appeared from “Krishananattam,” theatrics on the life and activities of Lord Krishna conceptualized by the ruler of Calicut Zamorin in the 16th century. Once, the ruler of Kottarakkara, Kottarakkara Thampuran, who was extremely impressed by Krishnanaattam requested Zamorin for a troupe of performers as loan. Zamorin refused for the same because of some political rivalry. As a consequence, Kottarakkara Thampuran formed another art style and named it Ramanattam that was later transformed into Aattakatha. Krishnanaattam was in Sanskrit, while Raamanaattam was written in Malayalam. Attakatha was brought in front of the whole world by the end of the 17th century christened as ‘Kathakali.’

Components of Kathakali

Kathakali primarily comprises five forms of fine art:
  • Natyam – Expressions or Acting
  • Nrithyam – Enactment
  • Nritham – Dance
  • Sangeetham – Music
  • Vadyam – Complementary Instrument


The music used in Kathakali has some resemblance to the elaborate south Indian classical music - Carnatic Sangeet. The key instruments used include shuddha madalam, idakka and chenda. Nevertheless, different instruments are used in different acts.


The costume used in Kathakali is very interesting and distinctive, while the makeup is extremely elaborate. There are varieties in costumes like ‘Sathwika’ for the hero, ‘Minukku’ for females, ‘Kathi’ for the villain and ‘Thatti.’ These basic categories are further divided in subdivisions and a character can be instantly recognized by the costume and makeup.
The makeup is again very elaborate and the most notable. It is so detailed that it appears more like a mask than makeup. The white color used is made of flour, red from Vermilion and black from soot. The colors depict characters and are not just decoration on performers’ face. For example, red used in feet symbolizes an evil character.

There are nearly 101 Kathakali stories. Earlier, the stories were composed for the entire night, but growing demand for the concise versions compelled plays to be shortened to 2- 4 hours instead of the entire night. It would be a good idea if one is aware of the story before watching a Kathakali play.

Kathakali Centers in Kochi

Cochin Cultural Centre
Manikath Road, Behind Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi
Show Time: 7pm daily.

India Foundation
Kalathiparambil Road, Near Ernakulam Junction Railway Station, Kochi
Show Time: 6:45pm daily.

Art Kerala
Kannanthodathu lane, Valanjambalam, Kochi.

Kathakali shows are also organized by the Kerala Kathakali Centre at Fort Cochin near the Chinese Fishing Nets.

Explore more about Kochi Specials

Are you a Business Owner?

Add the products or services you offer

Promote your business on your local city site and get instant enquiries