Kathakali is an ancient form of dance-drama that originated in Kerala. This highly stylized performance art is known for its elaborate makeup and costumes, integral to the performance. Kathakali makeup transforms the actors into the characters they are portraying, and each colour and design has a specific meaning.
The legend of Kathakali makeup suggests that it’s not just the makeup that transforms the actors but also the spirit and energy they bring to the performance. Kathakali actors train for years to perfect their craft and bring the characters to life through their movements and expressions. The makeup enhances the performance, but the actor’s skill and energy truly capture the audience’s attention.
The makeup process itself is a time-consuming and intricate art form. It can take up to three hours to apply the makeup, which is made using natural ingredients such as rice flour, coconut oil, and charcoal. Each colour and design has a specific meaning and represents different aspects of the portrayed character. For example, green symbolizes nobility and virtue, while red represents evil and arrogance.
There are seven basic types of makeup used in Kathakali, each with unique characteristics and significance. These types are Pachcha (green), Pazhuppu (ripe), Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, Minukku, and Teppu (red).
Pachcha makeup represents noble and virtuous characters such as kings, sages, and gods. The predominant colour used in this makeup is green, made from a mixture of turmeric, lime juice, and a herbal paste.
Pazhuppu makeup is used for mature characters, such as the father of the hero or the heroine. The predominant colour used in this makeup is a deep yellowish-brown, made from a mixture of rice flour and turmeric.
Kari makeup is used for female characters, both virtuous and villainous. The predominant colour used in this makeup is a mixture of black and yellow, which is applied to the forehead and cheeks.
Kathi makeup is used to represent villains or characters with negative shades. The predominant colour used in this makeup is black, which creates a fierce and menacing appearance.
Thaadi makeup is used to create a bearded appearance, and it is used for characters such as Hanuman or the demon king Ravana. The predominant colour used in this makeup is a mixture of black and red.
Minukku makeup is used to create a gentle and beautiful appearance, and it is used for female characters. The predominant colour used in this makeup is a mixture of yellow and saffron.
Teppu makeup is used to represent evil characters such as demons, and the predominant colour used in this makeup is red, made from a mixture of cinnabar and rice paste.
In Kathakali, the makeup worn by the performers is a crucial aspect of the art form, serving both functional and aesthetic purposes. Not only does it aid in distinguishing the characters, but it also enhances the overall visual experience of the dance-drama. The different makeup types used in Kathakali are determined by the character’s role, personality, and emotions. The colours are derived from natural sources, such as rice paste and vegetable colours, and are carefully selected to reflect the character’s traits and the scene’s mood.
The makeup is so detailed and intricate that it can be challenging to recognize the actors without it. However, the legend of Kathakali makeup reminds us that it’s not just the makeup that makes the performance but also the talent and dedication of the actors themselves.
Kathakali makeup is a testament to the importance of makeup and the actor’s performance in this ancient art form. It’s a reminder that makeup is just one aspect of the performance and that the actor’s energy and skill are equally important. So, the next time you attend a Kathakali performance, pay close attention to the actors’ movements and expressions and try to appreciate the incredible talent and dedication that goes into this ancient art form.