The training of all members of a Kathakali Troupe takes years of hard work and devotion. Each section has an Ashan - Guru - who will guide his student throughout his life. The aim is to achieve perfection then work in harmony as a team of specialist artists to create Kathakali.
The training techniques are based on the ancient exercises of the military called Kalari Pyattu laid down in the Natyasastra. Kalari Pyattu remains the basis of the Kathakali training to this day.
The actor must be supple, strong and able to withstand hours of rigorous performance. This can only be achieved by years of hard physical, mental and spiritual work.
The whole body has to be trained to portray the great characters from the Hindu epics.
A summary of the acting technique is:
"Where the hand moves, the eyes follow. Where the eyes move, the mind follows. Where the mind moves, the mood follows. Where the mood goes, there the Rasa [flavour] arises"
As with most classical performing arts of India, a Kathakali story is told through sign language - Mudras. The Mudras used in Kathakali are virtually the same as the ones used in Koodiyattam and Krishanattam complete with alphabet, grammar and sentence structure and are considered to be the language of the gods.
Photo credit Billy Harrow