The backstage of Kathakali: Turning serene faces eternally beautiful

The gem of Kerala's cultural heritage



January 6, 2019

/ By / New Delhi

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Media India Group captures the glimpse of backstage preparations of the major dance form of Kerala – Kathakali, the art that echoes the ethnicity of Kerala. 

One of the most stunning experiences is getting an opportunity to get access to the backstage of dance performers. The amount of time taken during their makeup, costume preparation and their dedication before the event performances is all that transforms a common face to a dancer. Having an opportunity to experience the backstage makeup and costume preparations of Kathakali performers, gave me an insight into these amazing and tireless world of the artistes behind the stage.

Brightly coloured faces from the backstage 

During the Annual Celebration of the Tourism Festival held by the Government in the month of September 2018, I experienced the most amazing activity and photographed the most time taken efforts by the artistes of the classical dance known as Kathakali, the most famous, unusual and ancient dance form of the south Indian state of Kerala.

The backstage of Kathakali was an amazing experience to see how these people dedicate their time to make up the dancers before the event. It takes almost 2-3 hours to colour the faces which is the most important part of the dance form. Kathakali is basically considered to be the combination of five elements which includes, the facial expressions, the mudras (hand gestures) and the synchronization of hands, body, and legs which rhythmically move to form a beautiful dance form.

It takes years to learn the art of Kathakali, the performers are required to undergo intense training for the eye movements and facial expressions to deliver the meaningful mythological stories during the performances. The big red blood eyes express different emotions at every move. The epic stories are relatively from the Holy books of Hindus, like  Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana, and the characters are basically in the form of superhuman. The makeup is the most impressive part of this dance form, the face masks, more different shades of makeup have been introduced over the years, where the performers themselves give touch ups, they make use of herbal and natural colours which are truly insensitive to their skins, in a natural condition of light, it takes hours, patience and skills to dress up in an appropriate way.

Next comes the costume wearing where 30-40 pieces of short cloth are tied on the waist with the support of long cloth twisted like a rope, just to give a proper oval shape. On top of this a well- starched and pleated skirt is wrapped all over the waist followed by a jacket. Then comes the ornaments- gorgeous accessories, like tiny anklets around their ankles, bracelets, bangles and heavy studded gem necklaces to enhance the entire beauty of these performers.



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