Kathakali – Fascinating, but bring earplugs.

One of the cultural attractions in Fort Kochi is the Kathakali Cultural Dance demonstration. It takes place nightly at the Kerala Kathakali Centre located not far from the Santa Cruz Basilica. The show starts at 6 PM, but if you arrive at 5 you can watch the actors putting on their makeup. This is one of the most interesting parts of the whole event.

Building cheek fins.
This process took half an hour, with surprising results.

The two actors did most of their own makeup except for the one playing the hero. He had some help to glue on his paper cheek fins ( terminology?). The mustachioed fellow above patiently built up a frame of rice glue and cut concentric pieces of paper to attach to the hero’s cheeks. Check out the result.

More colour!
Once the cheek fins were finished, more and more colour on the face.

While the two actors were getting ready, the narrator / cymbal player was preparing the room. He lit the ghee lamps and put flowers in the various deity figurines. He also made designs on the floor using little metal pans and white sand from the fire extinguisher buckets. That was pretty neat.

Fire extinguisher designs.
He had elephants, flowers, little feet, all kinds of stuff.

After about an hour of makeup, there’s a small demonstration of Kathakali acting techniques. It’s at this point that the drumming starts.


There are two drummers at the side of the stage, and I am certain that their instruments are meant for a much larger space. The theatre in the Kerala Kathakali Centre is quite small and so the sound is deafening.

Put in your eaplugs!
There’s no talking in Kathakali, it’s all facial expressions.

Following the demo, the actors retire to put on their costumes, and the narrator joins the drummers in a drumming improv. If we were to go again, we would sit this part out completely. It’s painfully loud and at least fifteen minutes long. There’s no way around it, it was too much, too loud, too long for us.

The actual show is just four scenes, but the makeup combined with the costumes is spectacular. The two actors perform only a small demonstration of a typical play, the whole of which can last up to 9 hours!!

Scary makeup
The story: Hero meets woman; woman is secretly a demon.

It’s a fascinating look into the cultural art form, and really interesting how much dialog they can convey without saying anything. The kids liked it (except for when the hero killed the demon, the screaming scared the Little Fella). There was another demonstration (music, I think) following the Kathakali, but it was past our bedtime.


I am a world-travelling, long distance runner previously disguised as a high-voltage engineer and now masquerading as a travel blogger.

4 thoughts to “Kathakali – Fascinating, but bring earplugs.”

  1. Toujours super intéressant de vous lire. Merci pour le lien historique et culturel. Quelle histoire! Ian, tu es un excellent bloqueur. Je crois que tu as enfin trouvé ta vocation. Lol xx

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