• (Malayalam: story play) A form of Indian dance-drama popularin the state of Kerala. It employs acting, dancing, and music to dramatizestories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Puranas. The genre,which is noted for its strong masculine dancing and use of facialand hand gestures to illustrate the action, developed from the earlierRamanattam drama, which drew exclusively on the Ramayana. Inthe 16th century playwrights turned to popular epic material to findnew plots, leading to the emergence of the new genre of Kathakali.

    Although Kathakali was originally performed by Nairs,or martial arts experts, modern performances mix Nairs andother actors. Their training, which begins at the age of 10, takesup to 10 years, during which an actor must learn some 600 hand gestures,memorize the entire repertory of plays, and develop enormous physicalstamina.

    The performances, which last all night, may feature a mainplay chosen only hours beforehand. The presentation begins with apercussion overture and dances. This is followed by the main drama,which is chanted by the ponnani or leading singer. A sanka or conch shell represents the gods on stage. A Kathakali troupe successfully toured Britain in 1992.