What We're Doing Now

Since September 2018 we have been working flat out to research, plan, structure and deliver specially designed workshops, costume displays and performances in the London area as part of a National Lottery Heritage Project featuring Kathakali and Bharathanatyam costumes. 


The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company, The Halley Academy London, Victoria and Albert Museum, The Maritime Museum, Malayalee Association UK, and ASnet London want to deliver a project featuring the historical costumes of Kathakali theatre and Bharathanatyam dance from South India. 


The Kathakali costumes are the only complete set outside of India and offer a rare opportunity for people to learn about the materials used, the characters they represent and their cultural heritage.   



The project has the potential to release the remarkable history preserved in the costumes, make heritage more relevant and accessible, raise awareness of the role theatrical costumes and clothing play in retaining our history, our identity and defining how our heritage is understood and celebrated.



A manual of how to use of the Kathakali costumes will be created and left to the V&A, along with our full set of costumes on our death.

This will enable people from all over the world to access Kathakali for centuries to come.

Training for students at The Halley Academy, London. March 2019

The training took place between 4th - 8th March 2019where the group explored a different theme each day to build up a picture of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam.  

Day 1: Basic introduction to Kathakali including an introduction film.
The group were challenged by such a different way of performing, the ancient rituals involved and the fact that men perform female characters.

Day 2: Focus on costumes, how they are repaired, handling and materials used. 

The group became quickly absorbed into the complex study of the costumes applying the gold leaf to the carved wood. They interviewed, and filmed, a costume maker and an actor to learn how it felt to work with the costumes. 

Day 3: Comparative study of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam
We did a comparative study of the rituals, training, movements and emotions required to perform these ancient art forms. 

In the afternoon they made a mask based on a Kathakali traditional design and saw an example of the three dimensional make up is used in Kathakali. 

Day 4: Social and personal identity: 

This day was all about the children and their link with heritage. They explored how clothing represented how people live, work and establish a role in society.

In the afternoon they added the mask to the movements they had created and created a short story. 

Day 5: Visit to the National Maritime Museumto receive training in Research from a member of the NMM staff, explore how clothing reflects our identity and how to gather Oral Histories safely. 

They finished off with interviewing a Kathakali actor and a Kathakali make up specialist using the skills they had learned.

The Study Group from The Halley Academy were given training from a member of the NMM staff in how to research. These skills were then put to the test in the actual museum. 

They were given instruction in Oral History how to handle an interview, how clothing captures our identity and how to gather Oral Histories safely. 

They finished off working in small groups interviewing a Kathakali actor and a Kathakali make up specialist using the skills they had learned.

this group have worked with experts in their field and showed maturity and dedication.

4 Open Days at the Halley Academy20th  – 22ndMarch 2019- included a display of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam costumes, additional classical Indian dancers and solo performances of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam by professional artists Kalamandalam Vijayakumar and Bhagya Lakshmi. 

The masks the group made based on classical Kathakali make up designs were displayed alongside of the costumes. 

Members of the training group were able to speak about Kathakali and Bharatanatyam to other students in the school who came to see the performance. 

The Open day for the community held on 22nd March - 7.00pm - 8.30pm was attended mainly by the South Indian community who were overjoyed to have their heritage celebrated in their local community. After the performance the audience viewed the costumes, met the artists and asked questions. 

Kathakali and Anthropology: 11thMarch – 15thmarch 2019 

All the feeder schools were exceptional, receptive and full of art and visual stimulation.

The children as young 5 years old explored Kathakali and Anthropology increased their awareness of heritage and appreciated the valuable role social history plays in our identity.

In Kathakali they could see the costumes come alive through an ancient sign language telling a story. In anthropology they looked at how clothing developed over 200,000 years and how it captures our history and identity. 

In the afternoon the groups changed over.

The children then came to see the costume exhibition and performances at The Halley Academy. One teacher said that "the costume display and performances had opened the children`s eyes to a totally different culture". 

11th March - Henwick Primary School:
A school where the arts thrive as projects devised by Denise Jupp decorate the walls. The children had done some designs based on a William Morris wall paper print that will be displayed at the V&A as part of the Open Day.  

12th March - Plumcroft Primary School 
This school opted for Kathakali only as and explored the costumes and learning how a Kathakali character moves and tells a story. Again the school was full of sculptures decorating the walls. 

13th March - Chestnut Grove Academy.
A beautiful drama studio and theatre.
The children settled down and focused and related equally to Kathakali drama, the academic information and anthropology.
They were certainly challenged as they were confronted with a different culture and style of theatre but tried hard to learn something new.

Comments from the teacher “In a time where we are encouraged to be divided it was a nice way for students to make connections with a different culture; finding similarities and appreciating the differences".

14th March - Cherry orchard Primary School
Another creative school with sculptures everywhere indicating that visual learning is popular at the school.
The children were fascinated by the Kathakali and Bharatanatyam costumes, especially the coloured fabric and golden ornaments. In anthropology they shared the stories their items captured.

15th March - South Rise Primary school
Good groups worked hard to understand something about a heritage that was so different. In anthropology they were eager to share their stories within the class.

All these young children were introduced to heritage, many for the first time. They gained knowledge about two classical art forms from south India, an understanding that heritage can travel when people migrate and that history is not just represented by buildings.


ASnet London 2nd, 5thand 6thApril

Training was given for a group of people with arthritis who meet regularly and wanted to take part in this project. The group have been involved in several of our heritage projects including We Are What We Wear [2011] and East Meets West [2015]. They are now able to speak accurately about Kathakali from many different aspects.

The group overcame mobility problems to get to the workshops. Several members were from India enabling a discussion between different aspects of Indian heritage which was very inspiring.

The group learned how to apply the gold foil to repair the costumes and made masks based on a traditional Kathakali design. 

The Bharatanatayam dance exercises were similar to their yoga sessions and the Mudras [sign language] was comparable to their British Sign Language. 


Diane will be meeting and greeting the audience at the V&A and the National Maritime Museum.


Legacy:These workshops prove that people with disabilities have their own way of overcoming problems.  Life is not always easy but they have a determination to maximise their potential. They have an increased knowledge of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam, how the costumes are repaired, the materials used, the symbolic characters the costumes represent and the temple culture behind these art forms. Their moto is “Bee Positive”. 


12thMAY 2019.

What an honour to perform in the most famous museum for costumes in the world – the Victoria and Albert Museum.

People travelled from all over the country to see the creating a warm and friendly atmosphere.

The Lecture Theatre took on a majestic place as people gathered round the costumes and took their seats.

Kalamandalam Vijayakumar led the presentation with Namaskaram to establish the sacred foundation of the arts to follow.

Kia Kotti Kali, an ancient dance ritual for women from Kerala, brought Kerala traditions on to the stage.

Award winning classical dancer Arunima Kumar delivered a superb performance of Kuchipudi demonstrating the beautiful body positions of this dance.

Bhagya Lakshmi performed an excellent example of how Bharatanatyam, the oldest classical dance of India, combines movement and emotion through dance.

Kalamandalam Vijayakumar brought the evil demonsess Poothana to life through his superb use of emotion and acting skills.

A brilliant audience and an unforgettable performance presentation.   

Kalamandalam Vijayakumar



ASnet, London 18th may 2019

A small audience at The Cranbrook Centre, Valentines Park, Ilford on 18th May 2019 created a magical atmosphere as they say close to the performers who showed how the beautiful Kathakali and Bharatanatyam costumes come alive through the skills of the performers. 

Years of hard physical training and dedication are needed to perfect these intricate performing techniques. Both art forms are rooted in the ancient Hindu text, stories and myths that have enriched the world with visual storytelling for centuries.  The group are fully aware that Kathakali is not a dance but a powerful storytelling dram depicting the gods and goddesses as they enter our world. 

The receptive audience, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, Kathakali, and Bhagya Lakshmi, Bharatanatyam, brought the space alive with energy, inspiration and something that is beyond words. 



 Even though the World Map was a huge space the costumes looked so powerful and became richer as you got closer. Lots of people came to see them enabling us to reach a new audience that may not have experienced  Kathakali before.

 Kia Kotti kali and Bharatanatyam dancers injected the space with a living example of classical south Indian culture highlighting how heritage travels when people migrate and take their traditions with them.




Kalamandalam Vijayakumar,Kathakali, Arunima Kumar, Kuchipudi and Bhagya Lakshmi, Bharatanatyam, performed in the Lecture Theatre enabling the audience to discover how three different styles of classical dance drama from South India use costumes and make up. 


The Malayalee Association UK [MAUK] kindly hosted an excellent exhibition of Kathakali costumes, 12.00 - 5.00,  enabling people to walk in off the street to see something different. Lots of people engaged with Kathakali for the first time.

We made contact with the local library and hope to do some work with them in the future to raise awareness of Asian culture and traditions.

People from different ages and cultural backgrounds came in to see the display.  

A group of people, mainly from Kerala, came to the workshop - 5.00pm - 7.00pm - offering a rare opportunity to study the story of Poothana Moksham depicting the evil Poothana attempting to kill the baby Lord Krishna. It was a wonderful atmosphere as the group discussed and learned in depth about this popular story normally performed in the temples of Kerala just before dawn.

We were delighted to see several children with their parents and pleased at how well the conbcentrated and joined in.

Poothana disguised as a beautiful lady searches for Lord Krishna. She learns to love the baby and doesn`t want to kill him but is afraid of the evil King who is ordering her to do this terrible thing. She eventually finds salvation as she dies because she has been killed by Krishna.

Kathakali actor, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, led the workshop enabling a group of interested people to discover how a kathakali actor tells a story and explore how the story is told and how the thoughts and feelings of Poothana are expressed.

Kathakali make up specialist, Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar, talked about the important role the costumes and make up have in Kathakali.


I had no idea how much work was involved in the detailed documentation of the costumes required by the Victoria and Alber Museum.
Each section of the costume has to be measured, photographed, a detailed discription written, what it is used for, it`s history and it`s origin.
Eventually when i, Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Vijayakumar both die our Kathakali costumes ahve been donated to the V&A to ensure that people can have access to them for generations to come. 

All the masks that I made have to be preserved and also documented.

Lots of work to do to preserve these magnificent costumes that have been with us for over 30 years.

Teaching people of all ages about the costumes, the people who made them, preserved them and performed in them has been very rewarding.


We would like to thank the following organisations for their kind support.