The Make-Up

In Kathakali, however, the actor's make-up is thick enough to give the appearance of and provide the advantages of a powerfully painted mask, but as it is applied direct to the face it also allows full expressions of the face and eyes, thus enabling him to portray the different emotions which are an important feature of all Hindu dramas.

The colourful patterns that are painted onto the actor's face are made from various stones and powders which are mixed with water or coconut oil and ground into a fine paste in the greenroom prior to the start of the process of making up. Just before going on to the stage, the actor places a small seed in each eye which turns the whites of his eyes red. This redness, which is not painful and lasts for about five hours, greatly enhances the expressions of the eyes which play such an important part in Kathakali acting.


The make-up falls into five main classes:

Paccha (meaning 'green'), Katti ('knife'), Tadi ('beard'), Kari ('black') and Minukku ('radiant').

Paccha (green): These are the heroic, kingly and divine types. Their faces are painted green, and they have large black markings around their eyes and eye-brows, the sacred mark of Vishnu on their foreheads and vermilion around their mouths. They wear a chutti, the ridges of which are made of white paper fixed into layers of rice paste. On their heads they wear a golden crown called the kesabharam kirita (hereafter referred to by its more common name, kirita).

Katti (knife): These characters are arrogant and evil, but have a streak of valour in them. They wear the same chuttis and kiritas as the paccha characters, and their make-up is basically green, to indicate that they are high-born, but a red mark like an upturned moustache or knife of a shape popular in Kerala is painted on each cheek. They have white knobs on the tips of their noses and on their foreheads to show that they are evil.

Tadi (beard): There are three distinct types in this class: Chuvanna Tadi (red beard), Vella Tadi (white beard) and Karutta Tadi (black beard). All three wear artificial trimmed beards in their appropriate colours which just cover the neck. The Red Beards are vicious and vile characters, whose faces are painted mainly black on the top half and red on the lower. The White Beard represents a higher type of being, and is seen mainly in the character of Hanuman, the monkey-man of divine nature. His make-up suggests that of an animal, with its complicated red, black and white patterns on the face. The Black Beards are the character-types in which black predominates in make-up and costume. These are the primitive beings—the wild hunters and forest dwellers.

Kari (black): These female characters are the demonesses—the most gruesome figures on the Kathakali stage Minukku (radiant). This class, which symbolises gentleness and high spiritual qualities, is in sharp contrast to the preceding four classes. In addition to these five main classes of make-up, there are eighteen special characters whose make-up cannot be fitted into any particular category. These include the birds Garuda and Jatayu the swan Hamsa, the serpent Karkotaka, the man-lion Narasimha and various special elaborations of the standard patterns to meet other requirements.