Kathakali & Indian Dance in Kerala

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On our second evening in Fort Kochi we went to a Kathakali show in Fort Kochi.

What is Katha…what was that word?

Kathakali is a traditional genre of Indian classical dance that developed in Kerala. It’s like a story with characters that wear elaborate make up and costumes and use their expressions to convey meaning to a story. These actors are traditionally men.

Our tuk tuk tour guide which you can read more about here, took us to the theatre on our trip to get tickets. The price of 650 rupees each included a martial arts show as well as traditional indian dance and kathkali demonstrations. It wasn’t really explained to us that you can also just pay to watch the Kathakali which is substantially cheaper at around 300 rupees. Make sure you ask about the different options for the show.

We were also told that you had to pay to take pictures but we decided to be cheap and declined. Even though we hadn’t paid we still took a few sneaky photos and nobody seemed to notice. As long as you’re not blatantly obvious whacking out the DLSR you should be fine.

Do I have to go to Fort Kochi to see a show?

Nope! We’ve been travelling round Kerala for over 10 days now and in every fairly touristy area there seems to be some kind of Kathakali show! Prices may vary as well as the quality of the show. Ask at your hotel or any guides for their recommendations but bear in mind that they might get commission for pointing you towards a particular show.

What happens in a Kathakali show?

Make up

Our show in Fort Kochi started at 5pm but you were allowed to go an hour earlier to watch the actors put their make up on. Kathakali characters wear really colourful elaborate make up. One of the characters even had to have stuff glued to his face. It was interesting to watch but not terribly exciting. We were happy enough to watch because we were hot and tired from our busy day and the theatre had air con!

Indian Dance

When the show started the lights went down and a booming voice from a speaker told us some brief history about Indian cultural dance. The first performance was a woman demonstrating traditional Indian story style dance. We didn’t understand all of it but it seemed to be about a mother and child with her switching roles and lots of intense eye expressions!

Kathakali

Next the Kathakali actors came on. The first one, let’s call him orange dude demonstrated ‘eye dancing’. Yes thats right, there was lots of intense eye movements going on and it gave me a bit of a headache to watch. He then demonstrated different Kathakali signs and after that he demonstrated different things shown in the Kathakali signs. E.g. ‘Fish’ ‘River’ and my favourites ‘Bee sucking nectar from lotus flower’ and ‘Get out’.

The show continued and the Kathakali element climaxed with a story involving 2 of the characters and an Indian folklore story. I wish I could tell you what the story was, all I know is one of the characters tries to seduce the other one, who is a King. The King sees through them and kills them. But they strung this out for ages.

At the end of that there was a chance to get pictures with the Kathakali actors but we didn’t bother, we weren’t sure if we were allowed as we hadn’t paid the ‘camera element’. After the people that had only paid 300 rupees left (cheapskates, just kidding) we saw another traditional Indian dance by the woman and then the martial artists came on.

Martial Arts

Well. There were rippling muscles abound. This was definitely the more exciting part of the show, they did flips, fighting with sticks, bare hands etc and they even did the splits every possible way, which made Ben wince in pain. At the end of the show the martial artists were standing around and an old lady took the chance to applaud them again and get photos with them all. I don’t blame her to be honest!

 

If you’re in Kerala you should definitely check out a Kathakali show. Kathakali is not only in Kochi but seems to have theatres dedicated to it in every tourist town in Kerala. My recommendation is to ensure you get some martial arts in there to add a bit of excitement, as well as a giggle at some of the weird Kathakali expressions!

Have you been to Kerala and seen a Kathakali show? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

 

Read more about my trip to India:

Learning to Love India

Tuk Tuk Tours in Fort Kochi

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