By Somali K Chakrabarti


Jingling anklets

flicking fingers, shifting glance,

moving in tandem – 

sea of emotions in a

lavish spectacle of dance


© Somali K Chakrabarti


Kathakali, the classical dance form of Kerala, originated in the 17th century, though the roots date back to 1500 years ago and lie in the ritual folk dances and dance dramas of Kerala.

Characterized by ornate makeup and fanciful costumes, the dance drama form blends dance, drama, mime and song to depict stories from Indian epics.

The body movements of Kathakali are influenced by Kalaripayattu, the early martial arts of Kerala.

In an excerpt from the novel ‘Arjun Without a Doubt‘ by Dr Sweety Shinde,  Arjuna, of Mahabharata, draws parallel between dance and martial arts.

‘I would never regard dancers with disdain; I now know what efforts and grueling hours went into excelling in it. Archery and dance, both required an equal amount of dedication and dexterity; timing and tempo; elegance and concentration. Both required rhythm and restraint. War-dance had its rhythm too. ‘

The dance form makes extensive use of  the facial gestures such as movement of the eyebrows,  eye-balls and the lower eye-lids than any other dance style. Performers enact the story using hand gestures, facial expressions and eye movements that capture a whole range of emotions.are used to convey the story and translate words into the visual language of dance.


A Tanka is a Japanese poem consisting of 31 syllables in 5 lines, with 5 syllables in the first and third lines and 7 in the rest.


Lei: A wreath for your soul  is a string of short poems reflecting on nature, life, illusion and inspiration.Lei




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  • Thanks to blogging and awesome people like you that I have learned so many new poetic forms…Tanka…will look it up for sure…you did a wonderful job here…beautiful pic and description too…:-)

  • The language of classical dancers is amazing and how they can convey a plethora of emotions through gestures is a marvel! 🙂 Only stringent training can accomplish that. I love this form of dance.

  • Kathakali displays emotions…and you’ve put it all beautifully in your visual poem.
    When younger I learnt Manipuri dance full ofswaying gestures. Am a Kathak graduate from Prayag and other

  • Kathakali is a spectacular dance form. We watched it live on a show while we visited Kerala. You have brought the emotions and strength of the form in your words… 🙂

  • I’d love to learn to dance the Kathakali, but I have no eyebrows or eyelids with which to gesture! It sounds most beautiful, though.

  • I am yet to watch a live performance. But I have always been intrigued by their eye movements and the facial makeup particularly the beard. 🙂

  • I don’t know much about dance, it being one of the arts which I consider myself misfit for, but I’ve always been fascinated by it. I had read somewhere that Kathakali was inspired by Kallaripayattu, which was invented by Parashuram in Malabar. Love your blogs for such out of the box topics and research! Still remember the one on African Siddi tribe.

    This post inspired me to write a mythological story. Thanks a lot! 🙂

  • … flicking fingers, shifting glance, … Amazing display of emotions by Kathakali dancers.

  • What fitting words and ode to the dance form in an aesthetic language and lyrical expression:)

  • Is it Kalariyapattu that inspired kathakalli? Wow, didn’t know that!
    A strange coincidence – This excerpt from my novel speaks exactly how Arjun found similarities in dance and martial science.
    ‘I would never regard dancers with disdain; I now knew what efforts and grueling hours went into excelling in it. Archery and dance, both required an equal amount of dedication and dexterity; timing and tempo; elegance and concentration. Both required rhythm and restraint. War-dance had its rhythm too. ‘

  • In fact it seems that Kalaripayattu has influenced many theatre and dance forms in Kerala.
    The excerpt from your book draws a very good parallel between the focus and dedication needed for mastering dance and martial arts. Let me include it in the post.

  • Somali…you have captured the difficult dance form such as Kathakali with such ease and aplomb…also would like to add that the make up and costume of this extremely tedious dance form takes hours and the feet is always folded sideways with the toes bend down…you are an inspiration with tankas and just had the privilege of reading Rakesh’s brilliant rendering of epic character Ashwathama in his magnificent post
    Loved the intricate movements of the eyes in this…

  • Also Somali…looks like the image is that of a “yaksha gana” artist and not that of Kathakali artist because an artist usually dons green paint predominantly …

    • Thank you Sunita. I wonder how much dedication is needed to master such a dance form. Thanks for pointing out about the image…will replace the image with a correct one…with faces painted in red and green.

  • A beautiful tanka indeed! Somali, you have captured the essence of Kathakali (as per my understanding) as with such elaborate makeup, costume, ornaments, mudras and dance movements, it is a sea of emotions for sure! I second Sunita regarding the image.It does look like more of a ‘yakshaGaana’, from Karnataka, which in turn is said to be hugely inspired from the Kathakali!

  • Somali you have explained so beautifully the intricate details of this ancient dance form in so few words.

  • How beautifully you’ve explained the nuances and meaning of Kathakali dance form! The painting too is impressive! 🙂

  • What a beautiful portrayal of the dances… I have seen the dance form in my school and very well know how beautifully a kathakali dancer exudes emotions. Your words made me visualize it again! 🙂

  • Amazing poetry Somali, I loved the pictures and the description too. So well written 🙂

  • I have always been amazed by the expressions of the Kathakali dancers behind that heavy makeup. How have you been, Somali?

  • greenspeckblogger

    June 1, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    A fascinating dance it is 🙂

  • Beautifully captured. I have been always amazed with the ability of the Kathakali performers on being able to use the tiniest of muscles on their face to make unusual expressions. It is indeed mesmerizing

  • Beautiful indeed Somali, unlike other art forms, dance combines the mind, the body and the soul into action. Something we get do through yoga and meditation. It is perhaps one of the most fascinating form for an artists to engage and entertain with self and others. Yes, Somali you have beautifully described the various nuances and facets of this dance form, the coordination between eye lids, eye balls and eye movement appears so easy and that is because of the dexterity of the artists, and when we sit down observe we realize how difficult to do it. The focus is on eye and face movement. Not easy to learn the skills of dancing but those who have the passion for dance, it comes so naturally and it comes with ease and there is so much grace when the artist does it without hesitation and with all the emotions expressed with full throttle and the facial expression truly captivates the audience. The color and the combination of movement in the colorful attire makes it truly colorful and fascinating to watch in awe. As I understand the artists needs many hours before the performance to do the makeup and it is a tedious process where the makeup team and the artist has to have lot of patience and like all art forms patience is big virtue and all artists have a bagful of those quality so much needed in excelling in such art forms.

    You have written such lovely lines “jingling anklets, flicking eyes and shifting glances”, I was driven by the lively choice of words and it just took me onto the dance floor when I combined the beautiful picture with the lovely flow of words…
    Eid Mubarak to you Somali, the typical style that is adopted in saying that greetings…the Hyderabadi style has a charm in talking with the Hindi and Urdu mix…

  • Thank you Nihar. Yes dancing is a supreme and dynamic form of art that combines creativity with energy to evoke different emotions. In a sense it encompasses a very wide range.
    Eid Mubarak to you as well. I love the preparation of sewain. 🙂

  • A beautiful form of art gains expression through your beautiful words, Somali:)

  • Thanks Rakesh. I’m sure you would have weaved a lovely story. Will read in a while.

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