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Home > Discover Cochin > Art and Culture > Dances of Kerala
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Kathakali is a beautiful mix of dance and drama and is the most distinguished dance of Kerala. As per research, this dance form may have had its beginnings sometime during the 2nd century. "Katha" means story and "Kali" stands for dance. The Kathakali performance is actually the dramatised presentation of a play. They are based on the Hindu epics, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas.

Performers play the various characters, which can be generally divided into Pacca, the royal and the divine characters, such as Vishnu or Rama, the make-up of the royal characters consists of green faces symbolising heroism and righteousness along with a large crown headgear. Katti, these are the demon characters such as Ravana, and Tati, characters with beards like the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman.

The first sound of the Kathakali is made on the sudda mandalam, the long barrel-shaped drum. The initial drumming performance may take up to two hours. The rhythms of the drums and style of the singers suggest the temperament of the characters and create the mood of the drama.

This Kathakali dancer displays anger in his facial expression - one of the various emotions facially enacted while performing this dance. A Kathakali artist with his face painted with various dyes is ready to play the role of Arjuna. A Kathakali dancer in all his finery performing the role of Vidooshaka (court jester)


This Mohiniattam dancer expressing one of the nine sentiments (navarasa) -  arroganceMohiniyattam, the dance of the women in Kerala, embodies the traditional feminine aesthetics and this dance expresses worship. The origin of this dance relates to the custom of every village having a sacred grove, which the villagers believed was the home of their protector, the village goddess. Artists began to depict the goddess in drawings known as kolams. Later choreographers developed dance movements from the depictions of artists.

The dance derives its name from the female character, Mohini, portrayed in the Purana legends. It is a solo performance where the woman stands alone in grace and dignity. The rasa or sentiment evoked by the dance is said to be one of love. The dancer wears a white sari edged in gold, the serpent figured jewel for the neck, jasmine flowers for her hair and brass bells for her ankles and on the forehead she wears the vermilion tilaka, representative of the radiance of the deity.

This Mohiniattam dancer expressing one of the nine sentiments (navarasa) -  arrogance This Mohiniattam dancer fully engrossed in her performance A Mohiniattam dancer in all her finery

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