one of the main forms of classical dance-drama of India, other major ones being bhārata-nāṭya, kathak, manipuri, kuchipudi, and oṛissī. It is indigenous to southwestern India (Kerala) and is a dance-drama based on subject matter from the Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, and stories from Śaiva literature. Enacted outdoors, the presentation is an all-night function. During the action, voices chant the story as mimed by dancers; incidental dances, accompanied by ear-splitting drumbeats, enrich the performance. Traditionally, kathākali is performed exclusively by men and young boys who play the parts of both males and females. The dancers are dedicated to its practice throughout their lives.

      The movement is vigorous and florid. Stylized gestures and facial expressions follow the rules of bhārata-nāṭya (bharata natyam). Gestures are wide and strong, the pointing of a finger being preceded by a sweep of the body and a great circling of the arms. Faces are made up to look like painted masks. The costume consists of a full skirt, a heavy jacket, numerous garlands and necklaces, and a towering headdress.

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