Kathakali make up is an elaborate process lasting for 3 hours.It helps in giving a super human look to the actors.The make up of the male character other than the saint,is tedious.The Make Up is directly applied to the face and it does not obstruct the full expression of face and eyes.
All the colours used in the make-up are obtained from natural substances and herbs. For example, the red and yellow colours are made by powdering stones like Chaayilyam and Manayola respectively. A mixture of lime and rice flour serves for white. The green colour is produced by mixing Manayola and Neelam (blue). Coconut oil is used as the base for mixing these stone powders. Another stone, Chenchilyam is powdered and applied in order to protect the skin from burns. Kanmashi or Kajal (the black substance) is prepared by burning gingelly oil. Kumkumam or saffron is also used for the make-up. However, now-a-days many of these colour mixing processes have been replaced by easily available material like paper pulp etc.
Theppu is the first stage where the artiste himself applies the basic facial paintings. On this the Chuttikkaran (make-up man) puts the Chutti(a series of white ridges built up from the chin to the either side of the cheek) which forms the second stage of make-up.
The actor lies flat on a matted floor and the expert starts drawing “the designs” on the face.The most elaborate part of the make up is the chuttiAfter face part make up the actor stands up to put on the costume.The skirt is a well starched and pressed into frills garment.Before the skirt is put on,the actor ties 20 to 40 pieces of short cloth around the waist by the help of a large cloth twisted rope in order to give the skirt a oval shape.He then puts the jacket etc. The actor is profusely ornamented with garlands of beast,armlets,cupped mirrors etc.The head dresses are huge and large.
The Chutti plays a crucial role in differentiating the characters and their personality and has the following basic classification Pachha(green), Katti(knife), Tadi(beard), Kari, Minukku.
The make up colour also plays an important role in Kathakali.According to Sastras color symbolism has got significance.They reflect certain categories of emotions and gunas(attributes).The classification and nature of character are as follows.
- Green represents Sattivika nature
- Red represents Rajasic nature
- Black represents Tamasic nature
- Yellow represents Sattivika &Rajasic nature
- Green goes with godliness,white with spirituality,red with ambition and violence,yellow with passivity,and black with evil.
Mythological characters are classified into different categories. The first inthe order of precedence is the Dhirodatta, the noble hearted, upright hero. The make-up known as Pacha (Green) is allotted to such characters. Examples are the Gods of the elements, noble kings like Nala, Yudhishtra, Rukmangada, Arjuna and Bhimsena. Even Daksha is given Pacha, although he ultimately turns out to be arrogant and wayward. All characters who do Pacha also wear Kiritas (Headgear). But when it comes to characters like Vishnu, Krishna or Rama (the incarnation) hear gear is changed to what is called Mudi. This costume also has now come to be referred to as ‘Mudi’. For both Mudi and Pacha, the facial make-up is the same. krishna wears a dark jacket as distinct from the purple or red jackets of Pacha.
Kathi, another prominent costume of kathakali is devoted to heroes who are not too particular about the means they use to gain their needs. The costume in general is similar to Pacha, except that in the make-up, a knife-shaped pattern is drawn on either cheek in red pigment. In addition, a small ball is fixed to the tip of the nose and another one in the fore-head. kathi represents restlessness easily swayed towards wickedness and is the costume of characters like Ravana, Kamsa and Duryodhana. Kathi can be said to denote a combination of royalty and evil. Kings of demons like Ravana, or demons among kings and villains are depicted in Kathi. Whereas ‘Pacha’ characters do not open their mouths or create any noise ‘Kathi’ characters are permitted to make weird noises appropriate to the occasion or to the emotion expressed.
The costume that represents Thamoguna (wickedness) is Thadi. Thadi means beard. There are red, black and white thadis, each depicting a distinct type of wickedness. Red thadi has the face painted in frightening dark portions and wears an impressive red beard. The head gear is round in shape and much larger in size than those worn by Kathi. Red thadi is usually given to extremely wicked characters like Rakshasas or despicable men like Dussasana. Examples of Rakshasas are Bakasura and Jatasura. The concept of the red thadi is only of the destructive evil force with little or no thinking faculty. The costume has, therefore, been extended to portray roles like Srichakra and Veerabhadra. Srichakra is the all powerful weapon of Vishnu. Annihilation without thought is its motto. So also Veerabhadra who is born out of the fire of Siva, the Destroyer, is nothing but an agency for destruction and blind obedience.
A further extension of thadi is its application to monkey kings like Vali and Sugriva. Here again, the human contempt for the unthinking monkey has influenced this decision. There is no doubt, a slight modification in the white make-up pattern, but it is noticed only by careful observation.White Thadi or white beard is a further refinement of the Thadi group of characters. A good example is Hanuman, the monkey God. The intricate patterns drawn on the face with red, black and white, suggests a monkey face almost similar to the baboons of african forests. Hanuman, the monkey God of the epic Ramayana merit special mention. The crown is known as Vattamudi, a ceremonial military hat-like headgear and a white beard. The make-up is different from the ones usually given to the monkeys. Hanuman occupies a very special place in Hindu mythology. So also in Kathakali. Hanuman is also permitted to make weird noises appropriate to the occasion.
The black Thadi or black beard is a costume given to a character like Kali in ‘Nalacharitra’. The character is as evil as the red Thadi but has the subtle distinction of denoting a schemer as well. The make-up is the same as red Thadi, the beard alone being black in colour.
The ‘Kari’ is an all black costume. The face is painted in black; the jackets and skirts are blacker still. The headgear is primitive. The costume is used for depicting the lowest of primitive human beings both men and women. The noises they produce can almost amount to howling. Characters portrayed in this costume are demonesses and evil beings of the ‘under world’.
The ‘Chutti’ or white make-up plays a very important role in Kathakali make-up. In the olden days, the chutti was laid, layer after layer with a mixture of rice paste and lime. It used to take about three to four hours to get an actor’s ‘Chutti’ done. Today, the base is laid with a paste and the rest made of paper. The purpose of the ‘Chutti’ is to raise the contours of the face so that the area of aesthetic expression is clearly marked out. It also helps to draw the eyes of the audience to the actor’s facial expression.
The make-up used for gentle characters is ‘Minukku’. It consists of a mere painting of the face with yellowish orange pigment. There is no white chutty make-up and no elaborate clothing as in other characters. Women, sages and Brahmanas appear in ‘Minukku’. Other characters who appear in Minukku are charioteers and messengers.
The Mask conception in Kathakali
The Chau dance of Bihar and the Balinese dance are mask dances, but they hardly bear any resemblance to Kathakali, which is known for its exaggerated mime and dramatic exposition. Still there are many who mistake the Kathakali make-up as masks. The painted face and the white frames made on the face (chutti) certainly give the dubious appearance of a mask, but they are not, and they are drawn and painted on the face each day employing a different artist, who is again specialised in this art of Kathakali make-up. The rich colours are obtained from special indigenous stones ground in coconut oil and mixed in the right proportions to get the right shades. The mixing of these colours and grinding of the stones another art, which again needs sense of proportion and precision. A wrong proportion could give a wrong chemical reaction, which could affect even the face and eyes of the actor.
The Red Eyes
People are often puzzled and fascinated by the red eyes of the Kathakali performers and they wonder how it is done. Making the eyes red has two objectives. One is to equate the colour combination on the face; if one watches a kathakali painted face without the eyes being red, you will realise how dead the face looks with pale eyes. Therefore against the green or black background for the face, the eyes must have a red base to stand out vividly.