Home WORLD Eye Dancing and India’s Ancient Art of Kathakali

Eye Dancing and India’s Ancient Art of Kathakali

Kathakali is a traditional Indian dance native to the southern state of Kerala. To perform it, artists deck out in elaborate costumes and colorful makeup to tell stories from Hindu epics. It takes students nearly 12 years of training to learn the choreography and gestures necessary to Kathakali.

image/text credit: Great Big Story

But the real trick? Mastering the eyes. Dancers must learn to constrict and move their eyes to express a whole range of emotions.Like many classical Indian arts, Kathakali is choreography as much as it is acting.

image/text credit: Great Big Story

It is said to be one of the most difficult styles to execute on stage, with young artists preparing for their roles for several years before they get a chance to do it on stage.The actors speak a “sign language”, where the word part of the character’s dialogue are expressed through “hand signs (mudras)”.


While emotions and mood is expressed through “facial and eye” movements.In parallel, vocalists in the background sing rhythmically the play, matching the beats of the orchestra playing, thus unifying the ensemble into a resonant oneness.

Kathakali’s roots are unclear. The fully developed style of Kathakali originated around the 17th century, but its roots are in temple and folk arts, which are traceable to at least the 1st millennium CE.However, Kathakali differs in that it also incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts and athletic traditions of South India.