According to legend, Kathakali — the ritual dance-drama of the Indian state of Kerala — came to the Raja of Kottakara in a dream sent from the Gods.
Since the 16th century, this unique dance form has featured actors who communicate not with words, but through an intricate style of synchronized choreography focused on the eyes, face and hands.
Kathakali actors, typically men who play both male and female parts, take to the stage alongside singers and an orchestra. Their dress is spectacular: They wear a grand ruffled skirt, a blouse covered with scarves and gem necklaces, gold brooches draped on their shoulders, and colorful bangles and bracelets stacked on their arms.
But it's the actor’s elaborate and distinctive face paint or makeup — meant to accentuate the actor's eyes, which "dance" by moving in rapid lateral or circular patterns — that really brings the character to life. Every lip quiver, eyebrow raise, nostril flare and head jerk is meant to reflect deep emotions. The hands, too, play an essential role in each performance.
While it boasts a long and storied history, there are concerns that Kathakali could soon die out, due to the closing of traditional schools. As one teacher put it bluntly to the BBC, “Kathakali has been destroyed."