Kathakali is one of the 9 major Indian classical dances recognised by the Indian Ministry of Culture and Sangeet Natak Academy. Native to the state of Kerala, Kathakali was born in the 17th century. It is the performance or enactment of stories through dance and ancient Indian martial art techniques. The roots of Kathakali can be traced back to Bharat muni’s text Natya Shastra that contains verses on performance techniques. Traditionally, religious, spiritual and folklore narratives comprised the plotline of Kathakali performances. In recent times, however, adaptations of modern literary works and stories have been incorporated too.

Q What is the significance of the Kathakali headgear?

Headgear is used for Kathakali performances and allows actors to embody the characters they are playing. Due to the elaborate headgear worn by the performers, they look larger than life and are able to intensify the theatrical aspect of the performance. The different headgear worn by the different types of characters allows audiences to distinguish between them.

Q Where is kathakali headgears made?

Headgear carpentry for Kathakali performances primarily takes place in the village of Vellinezhi which is located in Palakkad district. The village is renowned nationally for its status as a Kalagramam (art village). It is believed that at least one person from every household is engaged in work related to Kathakali.

Q What does Kathakali mean?

Kathakali, the term is derived from two malayalam words- Katha (story) and Kali (play). So kathakali means an enacted story. The stories performed in kathakali are mostly from Mahabharata and Ramayana.

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      Headgear is used for Kathakali performances and allows actors to embody the characters they are playing. Due to the elaborate headgear worn by the performers, they look larger than life and are able to intensify the theatrical aspect of the performance. The different headgear worn by the different types of characters allows audiences to distinguish between them. From a functional approach, the headgear is crafted in such a way that it helps the performer balance better. Ribbons are suspended from either side of the headgear to tie it at the back of the performer’s head.

      Kathakali: A brief introduction to the artform
      Kathakali performances follow a basic structure known as ‘Attakatha’ meaning enacted story. There are two ways in which Kathakali performers ‘act’- one, through dance movements and the other, through distinct expressions. Accordingly, there are 24 prime mudras and 9 facial expressions through which the performers enact the story. The theatrical art form is known for its extravagant costumes, detailed make-up and intricately designed headgear that heighten its dramatics and appeal.

      Characters in a performance have varying makeup, headdresses and costumes depending on their personalities and nature. In Kathakali, seven different makeup styles are used, each of which denote a different archetypal character. For instance, characters whose faces are painted green are believed to be on the side of good. Such characters include gods such as Krishna, Vishnu and Ram and kings such as Yudishthir and Arjun. Conventionally, all roles, whether male or female, were performed by men only. Presently, women actors are also allowed to participate in Kathakali performances.

      A band of musicians accompany the performance and add to the tension on the stage. Various musical instruments and sounds are used to heighten the emotional effect produced by the Kathakali actors. Kathakali musicians have a few distinct musical pieces that define the mood of a particular scene.

      More than half a thousand written Kathakali plays exist but, less than 50 plays are performed currently. A majority of these plays were written before the 20th century. Sanskrit shlokas and Malayalam padams comprise two essential components of a Kathakali play. Typically, older Kathakali plays were performed during the night. Some like Ramayana and Mahabharat were performed on two consecutive nights. Presently, a Kathakali play lasts for about 4 hours.


      Generally, headgears comprise an integral part of one’s identity and culture. It allows people belonging to one community to differentiate themselves from other communities. Therefore, headgears become a visible assertion of one’s socio-cultural identity. In fact, in India, certain communities like Sikhs, become identifiable through their headgears.

      Headgears have several other uses too. In India, during olden ages, headgears were worn by soldiers and kings to protect themselves against attacks. Oftentimes, kings in various parts of India used to don metal headgears with chains suspended from either side to protect their face and neck. In such a time, headgears not only served as a source of pride but also became functional objects which could shield one from harm. Today too, headgears of different types are used for protection from heat, cold and rain. Certain tribes in America don feathered headdresses during war. This can not only protect one’s head from harm but also shows communal pride.

      Among the nobility, headgears possess another significant use. When worn by kings or queens, headgears become an indicator of royalty, wealth and power. Elaborately decorated crowns with rare jewels and diamonds are considered to be a royal’s prized possession. These were worn by nobles on special occasions to display their social status and exert their power in society.

      Today, in many cultures, covering one’s head is considered to be a mark of respect. Headgears can be used for this purpose too. In many Indian cultures, men and women both cover their heads with a topi or dupatta, when they visit a religious shrine. This shows courtesy towards god- someone who is considered to hold a higher position. In the West, in Christian countries, removing one’s hat in front of someone was considered to be a mark of respect. This practice can be traced to the mediaeval era.

      Myths & Legends:

      Kathakali is an integral part of Kerala’s culture and India’s heritage. Indian culture is underpinned by the omnipresence of mythic stories and legends. Kathakali too, is enriched by Hindu mythological works such as Ramayan and Mahabharat. In this section, we will take a look at some of the most popular myths and stories that are dramatized in Kathakali.

      This play finds its origins in the Mahabharat and revolves around Bheem’s quest for flowers to appease his wife, Draupadi. The play is named after the flower kalyanasougandhikam that is a white lily with fragrant smell. The drama follows the story of Bheem who is distraught over being exiled by the Kauravs. He pleads Yudhisthir to allow him to fight the Kauravs single-handedly but the elder brother refuses and convinces Bheem to wait for 14 years. Later, when Bheem is spending time with Draupadi in Gandhamadan gardens, she chances upon a kalyanasougandhikam (white lily). She is entranced by its ambrosial smell and requests Bheem to find more such flowers for her. Wanting to please his lover, Bheem agrees and sets out on his quest for the flower through some rough forests. Bheem is a giant and with his colossal strength, he destroys trees and vegetation and displaces animals wherever he sets foot. Unbeknownst to him, he arrives at Kadali forest where Hanuman is meditating. Upon hearing Bheem’s footsteps, Hanuman is awakened from his meditation and realises that Bheem has set foot in his territory. To teach Bheem a lesson, Hanuman takes the form of an old monkey and lies down on the path. When Bheem arrives, he asks the monkey to move out of his way but the monkey conveys that he is too old to move anywhere. Bheem decides to take matters in his own hands and tries to lift the monkey by its tail with his mace. However, his mace gets trapped under the weight of the monkey’s tail and Bheem realises that this is no ordinary monkey. Soon, Hanuman takes his original avatar and greets Bheem. He tells Bheem that he has created ruckus amongst the forest’s flora and fauna and that going forward, Bheem must tread lightly. He tells Bheem where he can find his beloved’s requested flower and the play ends with Bheem bidding farewell to Hanuman and continuing his journey.

      Not only is this play one of the most popular plays in Kathakali, it also occupies an esteemed position in Kathakali’s history. Written by Kottayathu Thampuran, the drama is a perfect combination of improvisation and structure.

      Another popular drama enacted by Kathakali players is Duryodhanavadham. This play was written by Vayaskara Mooss in the eighteenth century. It begins with Rani Bhanumati, Duryodhan’s wife informing him about the Pandav’s new palace at Hastinapur. Along with the Kauravs, Duryodhan visits the Pandavs’ palace which was built by the demon Mayan. Mayan had used his magical powers to build the palace and hence, some parts of the palace were deceptive. The Kauravs marvelled over the palace’s architecture and started walking over its glass floors. They likened the glass floors to a body of water due to its transparent nature. But the palace was magical and soon the glass floors turned into water and all the Kauravs fell into it. Upon seeing this, Bheem and Draupadi laughed at them. Duryodhan became furious and left to go back to his palace. There, he vowed to take revenge from the Pandavs and hatched a plan with his uncle, Shakuni.

      Shakuni invites Yudhishthir and the Pandavs to a game of dice. Initially hesitant to compete against Shakuni, Yudhisthir declines. But later, he comes to know that he has received blessings from lord Brahma to participate in the game of dice. Unfortunately, he bets his kingdom, his palace, his wife Draupadi and his brothers- all of whom he loses to the Kauravs. Duryodhan orders Dushasan to disrobe Draupadi in front of everyone and Dushasan proceeds to do so. Draupadi cries out for help and lord Krishna saves her from dishonour. Duryodhan takes over the kingdom of Hastinapur and orders the Pandavs to exile for 14 years. Before going into exile, Draupadi curses Shakuni that his death will come at the hands of Sahadev. She also curses Dushasan and tells him that her husband, Bheem will kill him and drink his blood.

      14 years later, the Pandavs come out of exile and lay claim to the throne of Hastinapur. Lord Krishna sides with the Pandavs and a war commences between the Kauravs and the Pandavs. The war lasts for 18 days, at the end of which, the Kauravs lose and the Pandavs win. The play ends with the death of Dushasan and Bheem drinking his blood.

      Even though the play is named Duryodhanavadham (the killing of Duryodhan), this scene is never enacted by the performers. The performance always ends with the killing of Dushasan.

      Kiratham was dramatised by Erattakulangara Rama Variyar for Kathakali performances. The play is centred on a fight between Arjun and Lord Shiv. Before the war between the Kauravs and Pandavs commences, Arjun decided to meditate in order to please lord Shiv and ask him for a boon. He sets camp at Mount Kailash, the holy abode of Shiv and Parvati. There he meditated upon lord Shiv for countless days and nights. Upon seeing Arjun’s devotion, Parvati told Shiv that they should bless him. But lord Shiv was unconvinced and wanted to put Arjun’s devotion to test. Simultaneously, Duryodhan heard about Arjun’s penance and vowed to distract the great warrior so he could not ask for a boon from Shiv. He sent Mookasuran, a demon in the form of a wild boar to attack Arjun and break his meditative trance. While lord Shiv and Parvati disguised themselves as hunters (Kaattalan and Kaattalasthree respectively), Mooksasuran started distracting Arjun from his penance. Upon seeing the wild boar disturbing Arjun, the hunter picked up his bow and arrow and shot at it. At the same time, Arjun too, shot an arrow at the boar. Both arrows killed the boar and it lay on the ground, motionless. As Arjun walked up to the dead animal, he saw that the hunter stood there with his wife and laid claim to the corpse. Arjun argued that it was his arrow which had killed the boar but the hunter refused to agree. Hence, Kaattalan and Arjun began to fight and the latter was overpowered by the former. Arjun realised that he would lose so quickly he gathered a few flowers, prayed to a Shiva lingam and offered those flowers to the lingam. However, he saw that the flowers that he offered to the lingam were falling on the kaattalan and kaattalasthree. Soon, he realised that it was lord Shiv he was fighting and apologised profusely. Kaattalan and kaattalasthree transformed into Shiv and Parvati and blessed Arjun. Lord Shiv presented him with a bow and arrow and blessed him so that he would win the war.


      Dancing has been revered as the ultimate expression of both religion and love since the earliest times in human existence. It is deeply intertwined with various aspects of human behaviour, including war, labour, entertainment, and education, as observed throughout history. Wise philosophers and ancient civilizations have recognized dance as the fundamental structure through which the moral fabric of human life should be woven. Hindus, in particular, hold the belief that dancing is a participation in the cosmic order and control of the world. Each sacred Dionysian dance is considered to be an imitation of the divine, reflecting a connection with the spiritual realm and a means of communing with the divine forces.

      In summary, dance holds immense significance as a powerful medium for expressing religious devotion and love. It has played a pivotal role in shaping human culture, serving various purposes in different contexts, and has been regarded as a profound art form by enlightened thinkers and ancient civilizations alike.

      Koodiattam and Koothu
      Before the advent of Kathakali in Kerala, there already existed several types of dance-drama based artforms which narrated stories from Sanskrit texts. One of these was Koothu which was performed by members of the Chakyar caste. Members of the Chakyar caste used to train for long periods before they presented a play to the audience. These plays were a mixture of dance and martial arts movements- akin to Kathakali. Koothu plays could be performed by a group of people but the most specialised act was a mono-act which took considerable technique and skill. This mono-act lasted almost an entire day. Koothu plays were known for their commentary on social issues. Underlined by witticisms, they presented a satirical take on society. Koothu finds several mentions in Sangam literature too. It is believed that Koodiattam evolved from Koothu. Performed in temple courtyards, Koodiyattam was a form of prayer dance. The aesthetics and costumes of Koodiyattam and Kathakali are quite similar.

      Late 16th and early 17th century
      In the following years, theatrical art forms such as Krishnattam and Ramanattam became popular in Kerala. Krishnattam and Ramanattam refer to the performances of stories of Krishna and Ram respectively. In the 17th century, the king of Kottarakara in South Kerala invited the performers of Krishnattam to dance at his court. However, the king of Calicut, to whom the performers paid allegiance to, forbade them to perform at Kottaraka’s court. Due to the Calicut king’s refusal, the king of Kottarakara created eight new stories- all of which pertained to Ram. These eight new stories came to be known as Ramannatam. While Krishnattam was based on Sanskrit verses, Ramanattam was performed in Malayalam. It debunked the belief that artforms could only cater to an elite section of society who knew and understood Sanskrit. Together, Ramanattam and Krishnattam evolved into Kathakali and incorporated other performance arts such as Koodiyattam, Ashtapadi Attam, Theyyam and Thiyattu. The name Kathakali was derived from the words Katha (story) and Kali (play). In the beginning, Kathakali plays were based on 101 stories but today, less than 1/3rd of these stories are dramatised.

      Mid 17th century
      In the mid-17th century, the king of Vettathunadu (an area in Kochi) known as Vetathu Raja introduced some changes to the artform. He employed singers and musicians to heighten the dramatic effect of the performance and to provide a background score to the dancers. Cumbersome masks used by actors were replaced by face makeup to make the performer look more natural. He also employed the use of a thirasheela, a satin curtain which would be raised to introduce the characters in the play. By this time, Kathakali had become a popular entertainment and artistic performance.

      Around the same time, the king of Kottayam authored four plays that every Kathakali actor must master to be considered a true artist.

      End of 17th century
      At the end of the 17th century, a group called Kali Yogam was formed. This group sought to train enthusiastic students in the art of Kathakali.


      Costumes, Makeup, Headgear and Set
      While actors and storylines comprise an integral part of Kathakali performances, what sets the art apart from many others is its focus on costumes, headgear and makeup.

      Since a majority of Kathakali stories were derived from religious texts and folklore, they usually contain archetypal characters and a fight between good and evil. To distinguish the nature of one character from another, Kathakali employs the use of colourful makeup. Broadly, seven different makeup styles are used to define characteristics of people who wear them. These are pacha, pazhuppu, kathi, kari, thaadi, minukku and teppu.

      Pacha– Pacha means green and is worn by actors who play good and virtuous characters. According to some beliefs, green represents morality and happiness. These actors wear a layer of light green paste up to their cheekbones. Their eyes are drawn in the shape of lotus petals with white rice paste known as chutti. In Hinduism, lord Ram who is associated with virtue and goodness, is often described as lotus-eyed. The forehead is coloured in white but the design may differ depending on the character. Pacha characters include lord Krishna, Ram, Arjun and Yudhishtir.

      Pazhuppu– Pazhuppu means ripe and characters with this makeup wear a base of orange makeup up to their cheekbones. Similar to pacha makeup, their eyes are painted white and they have a design on their forehead. These characters are also on the side of good but usually have a more aggressive demeanour. Pazhuppu characters include lord Shiv, Balabhadra and Agni.

      Kathi– Kathi makeup can be broken down into two categories- Karum Kathi and Netum Kathi. Karum Kathi are characters who have more evil tendencies than good ones and Netum Kathi characters have evil tendencies but their virtues often triumph over their bad side. Both characters have a green base for their makeup and a red moustache outlined in white chutti. The nose is enlarged to form a white bulb and the forehead has a big white dot too. Ravan, Duryodhan and Kumbhakaran are some examples of Kathi characters.

      Chuvanna Thaadi– Chuvanna means red and Thaadi means beard, these characters are also associated with evil. The base of the face is painted red and the eyes are framed with black colour. The moustache of such characters is white, is emphasised and extends till the ears. Dushasan is one example of such a character.

      Karutha Thaadi– Karutha means black and Thaadi means beard. Such characters are said to represent forest dwellers. They are usually depicted as evil or living on the edge of good and evil. Such characters are painted in black and patches of red if they represent demonesses.

      Minukku– Women like Sita and Draupadi are examples of Minukku characters as it is the feminine character archetype in kathakali. Their faces are painted in a glowing yellow colour to emphasise their illustrious character. Eyes are painted in black and a bindi might be present on the forehead.

      For anthropomorphic characters like Hanuman and Garud, very distinct makeup is used to accentuate their peculiar features and make them instantly identifiable to the audience.

      Headgears for characters differ depending on whether one is a pacha character or a thaadi character. Only male characters in a Kathakali play adorn a headgear known as kiritam. A majority of female characters except a few like Saraswati, Lakshmi and Surpanaka do not don any headgear. Here are the different types of headgears with details of designs carved on them-

      Design for Pacha and Kathi characters
      Since pacha and kathi characters play prominent roles in Kathakali plays, their headgears are the most elaborately designed ones. The main headgear is known as kiritam. It has three tiers: a base, a second dome-shaped tier and finally, a closed bud-shaped end. The headgear is carved out of wood and is hollow from within and open from the back. At the back, it is supported by a circular disc called the keshabaram which provides a halo-like effect to the ensemble. Between the keshambaram and the kiritam is another wooden frame known as the prabha. According to the Census of India 1961 which documented a few of the country’s diverse crafts, the kiritam is multi-layered.

      The lowest rung of the kiritam is painted a vermillion red upon which rows of intricate designs are crafted. Silver beads, mirrors, glass and aluminium foils may be used to create designs for these rows. Using such materials, designs of flowers and flower petals are replicated. One row is separated from the other by carving out lines which are then covered by the stem of a peacock feather.

      The second dome and the last rung of the kiritam are also embellished in a similar manner and then typically painted over with gold, green and white colours.

      The prabha, which covers the bottom two rungs of the kiritam like a rainbow, is shaped like a horseshoe. The prabha contains a simple design- it has multiple borders, which are embellished with pieces of glass, mirrors and silver beads. The outer edges of the prabha are typically painted golden while the inner ones are painted red.

      Keshabharam is the last part of the headgear, which is used as a mount to support the prabha and kiritam. It is circular in shape and its design is mainly composed of several concentric circles. The gap between two concentric circles is decorated and then coated with paint. Even the reverse of the keshabharam is decorated similarly. This is because, in dances like Kathakali, it is common for performers to seldom move in such a way that it shows their back to the audience.

      Design for Thaadi characters
      The headgear of the thaadi and kathi characters is the largest of all headgears. It is mostly similar to the headgear of pacha and kathi characters but is different in a few respects. The keshabharam is decorated with red wool and pinned down to the wood with the help of bent peacock stems. The outer edges of the prabha are decorated with woollen tufts too.

      Design for Kari characters
      The headgear of characters belonging to the Kari or forest-dweller type is completely different from the above two categories and is known as Kattallan murti. The headgear is not divided into any rungs and is shaped in the form of a curved cylinder, the circumference of the base being shorter than the circumference of the upper mouth. The shape is akin to a modern-day shuttlecock used to play badminton,the only difference being it is hollow from both ends. The bottom circle is covered with shells, strings of glass beads and stems of peacock feathers. Rising from the bottom circle are silver-like petals which cover its entire circumference and touch the bottom tip of the upper circle’s circumference. From the inside, the entire frame of the Katallan murti is covered with black cloth. From the inner edge of the upper circumference of the headgear emerge peacock feathers which cover its entire length. The peacock feathers form a beautiful circular canopy atop the headgear.

      Design for Rishi murti
      The headgear for characters who play sages is also made from kumbil wood. The headgear has two domes and its bottom rim is covered with red cloth. Then, the headgear is decorated with rows of silver beads, mirrors, glass pieces and peacock feather stems. The bottom dome is carved with thick, slanting lines which bend in the right direction. The upper dome is carved with thick, slanting lines in the opposite direction. Besides this, the headgear remains non-embellished reflecting the plain and non-materialistic nature of the sages who wear it.

      Even though certain characters like Krishna and Shiv might fall under the seven categories defined above, their headgears are distinct from other characters falling under the same category. This might be done to highlight their noble features and set them apart from other characters.

      Design for Krishna murti
      Krishna’s headgear is shaped like a small, inverted pot and is referred to as Krishnamurti. It is made either out of kumbil wood or from cane. The frame is drilled to make its interior hollow. The bottom edge of the headgear is covered in red cloth. The entire headgear is decorated with rows of silver beads and peacock feather stems. Along the upper circumference of the headgear runs a beautiful garland. Atop them are mounted the eyes of peacock feathers that are associated with lord Krishna.

      Design for Sivan murti
      Lord Shiv’s headgear possesses some similarities to the Rishimurti headgear as he too, was an ascetic. However, it is markedly different in a few respects too. While similar in frame, the lower dome has engraved thick, slanting lines which bend to the left. A silver crescent is also placed on the front of the dome. A figure of the river Ganga which flows from Shiv’s head is also carved on the dome. The figure of a snake coiled around the circumference of the headgear represents Vasuki and is carved in wood. All these figures are painted in naturally toned colours.

      Design for Hanuman
      Hanuman’s headgear is shaped quite peculiarly, almost like a Chinese hat. The base is composed of a flat plate upon which are mounted two domes, one large and the other quite small. Atop the smaller dome is an inverted funnel. This funnel is made out of silver and the two domes and plate are cast from cane. The base of the hat which is composed by the plate is decorated in concentric circles of silver beads, mirrors and peacock stem. The rear of the hat has long tufts of hair suspended from it.


      With the advent of modern media channels such as television, cinema, newspaper and now, social media/online media, the demand and viewership for traditional art forms has been on a steady decline. As more and more popular culture is imported from countries in the West, mainly America, Indian cultural practices are becoming rarely visible. Furthermore, artforms such as Kathakali require big, open spaces and last for days on end but time and space have become precious commodities, especially in urban areas. Like other Indian arts, Kathakali performances too have become a rare sight. This also reduces the demand for artisans employed in this sector. Carpenters who provide wood-based headgear for Kathakali are losing their jobs and turning to other professions. Seldom, some might continue to engage in carpentry but not educate their children and family in the craft. Moreover, due to awareness around education in India, children of carpenters might not be interested in pursuing the same profession. These factors reduce the number of people employed in the profession and therefore, the propagation of the artform itself. Local carpenters in Kerala also claim that since Kathakali performances have become a rarity, the cost of production has increased. These carpenters employ labourers to fell trees, transport them to the workshop and then decorate them with cloth, beads and other materials. Since demand for headgear is low but production costs are on the rise, carpenters might switch professions.

      Furthermore, much of the material originally used in headgears is now being replaced with cheaper, low quality material. For instance, instead of wood, fiberglass is now being used to make headgear which eliminates the need for carpenters. Gold leaves have been replaced by gold foil, silver beads and glass gems by plastic ornaments.

      Kathakali is a fascinating artform and along with many other age-old traditions and practices, comprises the heart of Indian culture. The elaborate costumes, intricate headgear work and natural products-based makeup are all unique crafts in themselves that must be preserved and proudly showcased to the world.

      Introduction Process:

      Wood from kumbil, kumizhu and iruli trees is plentiful. Carpenters usually employ labourers to fell trees and transport the wood to their workshops. Then, the carpenters take about a month to fully finish one piece of headgear. The artisans are highly proficient because a lot of them have inherited the profession and have been engaged in this field for a long time. Seldom, they also make jewellery and ornaments for the performers. All three parts of the headgear: the kiritam, keshambaram and prabha are made from wood. A typical process of headgear start by making its basic form, then carving elaborate designs on its surface and finally, decorating it with different materials.

      Raw Materials:

      Dry Kumizhu wood (Gmelina arborea) ―This is a type of medicinal wood which is used to make kiritham. According to a local carpenter, wood from Iruli or kumil tree is also used to make headgear. This is because the wood from these trees is extremely light and can be carved easily to make intricate designs on its surface.

      Golden foil- It is used to cover the wooden frame and give it a royal look.

      Glass beads– Glass beads are used to create decorative patterns and for ornamentation purposes.

      Colourful stones, glass pieces and plastic pearls– Like glass beads, these items too are used to decorate the surface of the headgear.

      Peacock feather – This is also a decorative item, it is bent and cut and then wound around the frame of the headgear.

      Bright colour velvet/felt– This cloth is used to cover several parts of the kiritham. It provides a unique aesthetic to the headgear.

      Jackfruit juice and wax – These two items are mixed in a definite proportion and act as an adhesive to stick the decorative items.

      Cotton threads and rope– These are suspended from either side of the headgear and then tied to the performer’s head, in order to keep the headgear in place and prevent it from falling.

      Tools & Tech:

      Lathe tool– A wooden lathe is a machine used in woodworking for shaping wooden objects. It consists of a motor-driven spindle that rotates a piece of wood at high speed, while the woodworker uses various cutting tools to remove undesirable material and create the desired shape. The motor provides power to rotate the workpiece, and the speed can be adjusted to accommodate different types of wood and cutting techniques.

      Chisel– A chisel is a cutting tool that has a flat blade with a sharp edge. It is used for carving, shaping, and cutting wood. The blade’s angle determines the type of cut it can make, with lower angles producing finer cuts and higher angles producing rougher cuts. Chisels have a long handle for applying force, and their blades can be sharpened with a sharpening stone or honing guide. Chisels come in various sizes and shapes, each intended for a specific task.

      Hammer– Hammers are used to apply pressure to the surface of headgear and provide it with a contour. Seldom, artisans use a simple wooden stick as a hammer.

      Saw– A wood saw is a type of cutting tool that is operated manually and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It is used to cut through wood and provide shape to it.

      Scissors– A pair of scissors are required to cut the fabric which is glued on to the kiritham to form a colourful design.

      Compass and measuring tool – A compass and a measuring tool is used to determine the diameter of the kiritham’s base.


      A kathakali headgear or crown, is the most auspicious and respected part of the costume. The costume which is adorned from the legs to the head, the crown is put on the head the very last just before the performance. Before putting on the crown, the performer remembers his Guru, prays to him and asks his blessings. Sometimes in the case the Guru is physically present, the Guru himself will crown the performer. This shows the utmost respect and devotion the performers have for their Gurus and the artform itself.


      Basic form– First, an artisan selects a wooden block according to the required size of the headgear. A rectangular block of wood is chosen and then on one end of the block, using a compass, a circle with the largest diameter is drawn. To give the block a cylindrical shape artisan use the wood turning technique, which is a traditional woodworking craft that involves shaping a piece of wood by rotating it on a lathe and cutting it with sharp tools. The lathe is a machine that rotates the wood while the woodworker uses various cutting tools to shape it into a desired form.

      Wood is mounted on the lathe, and the woodworker uses a roughing gouge to remove the outer layers of wood and create a cylindrical shape. Next, the artisan uses a variety of specialized tools, including chisels, gouges, and skew chisels, to shape the wood into the create concentric circles or desired form. The artisan must constantly monitor the wood and make adjustments to the cutting tools to achieve the desired shape and smoothness.

      The finished product is a unique and beautiful cylindrical object that showcases the natural beauty of the wood and the skill of the marker. To give it the shape of the desired headgear, the artisan uses a saw or chisel and cuts along the marked line on the wood object. You can use a hand saw or a power saw, depending on the size of the wood object and your personal preference. To make it light weight, the carpenter hammers the bust of the block flat and hollow. What remains is merely a simple unembellished frame of the headgear.

      Carving – The next step entails carving the wood. Carving begins with the selection of the wood that is to be used for carving. Then, the design is drawn onto the wood, and the artisan uses chisels of various shapes and sizes to cut away the wood around the design, creating a relief carving. The carver may use different types of chisels to achieve different effects, such as flat chisels for straight lines and gouges for curved ones.

      An artisan gains inspiration from different types of patterns that can be seen in nature or local architecture. It is a time-consuming process that requires considerable patience and skill. The carver must have a deep understanding of proportion, the wood and the tools used to create the desired effect.

      In addition to the main headgear, the artisan also makes other wooden parts of the headgear, such as a circular disk (keshabharam) for the rear of the performer’s head.

      Decoration– After the entire wood work is done, the carpenter hands the wooden headgear to a different set of artisans who adorn the headgear. These artisans use golden foil and velvet or felt to cover the wooden surface. According to the carving, they aesthetically cut and stick the colourful felt first, and later, the golden foil is used to cover the surface. The silver beads, mirror work, colourful stones, and other decorations are then glued to the surface with the help of a fluid called koottumezhuku.

      Koottumezhuku is a mixture of jackfruit juice, white and black wax. The feather on the peacock stem is removed with the help of a knife. Then, the stem is bent around to fit the shape of the kiritam. The peacock stem is glued onto a piece of red cloth and then stuck on the kiritam.

      Before the headgear can be donned by the performer, 2-4 pieces of cloth are tied around his head. These pieces of cloth are referred to as thalekettu.


      Cluster Name: Vellinezhi


      Headgear carpentry for Kathakali performances primarily takes place in the village of Vellinezhi which is located in Palakkad district. The village is renowned nationally for its status as a Kala gramam (art village). It is believed that at least one person from every household is engaged in work related to Kathakali! Many Kathakali performers, artisans and playwrights were born in this village and have greatly contributed to the popularity and propagation of Kathakali. Since many of its residents continue to be participants or indirect contributors to the artform, Vellinezhi serves as a bridge between its glorious past as a bustling artistry village and its present reputation as an art village.

      District / State
      Vellinezhi / Kerala
      Malayalam, Hindi, English
      Best time to visit
      Any time
      Stay at
      Good hotels available nearby
      How to reach
      Auto-rickshaws and Buses
      Local travel
      Bus stops available nearby
      Must eat
      Achappam, Vellayappam, Pazham pori, Resam, Injipuli, Vatthals


      The history of the areas surrounding and including Vellinezhi village can be traced back to the 8th century CE.

      8th century CE
      During this time, the area was administered by the Chera dynasty. The Chera kings had named the area cradled between Kunti and tributaries as Nedunganadu Keezhthala. The village of Villenazhi was also part of this region. The Chera kings had appointed a group of Nedungadi chiefs to govern the area on their behalf. Vellinezhi was ruled by a sub-community within the Nedungadi chiefs known as the Kathras. The Kathras’s palaces were situated near the Bhagwati temple in Pallipuram and their capital was Cherpulassery, a town 5-10 kms away from Vellinezhi.

      10th century CE
      In the 10th century CE, a clan known as Thirumulpad, who were considered to be distant relatives of the Cheras ruled vellinezhi. The Thirumulpads made a pact with the Kathras and governed the entire area of Nedunganadu Keezhthala. They continued to rule the region until the 14th century CE.

      14th century CE
      During this time, the region was ruled by Raja Zamorin of the Calicut empire. King Zamorin had ordered a royal family named Dharmoth Panicker family to govern the area. According to other sources, a community called Kavallapara Kovilakam was chosen to rule the area.

      18 century
      In the 18th century, the Palakkad region was raided by the Mysore forces of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. While the chief of Palakkad quickly submitted to Mysore kings, Calicut was invaded repeatedly. At last, the Mysore forces captured huge parts of Kerala until Kochi and marched towards the haven of the Raja of Calicut. Too proud to surrender to the Muslims, the Zamorin of Calicut burnt himself and died. Consequently, the area came under the rule of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.

      However, their rule was quite brief as the civilian population in the Malabar region revolted against them in large numbers. This prompted the British to support the empire of Calicut. The Zamorin of Calicut was reestablished with the British’s help and it was decided that he would pay an annual tribute to the kingdom of Mysore.

      However, the forces of Mysore continued to invade Calicut prompting the Zamorin to seek help from the British. In 1792, the British captured the area and began administering it.

      The British initiated a unification process during which Nedunganadu Keezhthala became a part of the Malabar region. In 1800, the Malabar region, of which Vellinezhi was a part, came under the umbrella of the Madras Presidency.

      From 1920 to 1937, the Madras Presidency held elections, the winners of which would rule in tandem with the British Government. Consequently, A Subbarayalu Reddiar of the Justice Party became the first Chief Minister of the Madras Presidency. In 1937, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari of the Indian National Congress became the presidency’s leader.

      After Independence, Madras Presidency became Madras State and democratically held elections decided who became chief minister of the state. During this time, Kerala was divided into four regions: Malabar, South Canara, Kochi and Travancore. Malabar district was a part of Madras Presidency while the others were not. Malabar district included the village of Palakkad.

      During the reorganisation of territories, all four aforementioned regions became a part of the state of Kerala.


      Located on the banks of tributary Kunti, Vellinezhi is a small village in Palakkad district. The village is composed of thickets and fertile land which makes agriculture the primary occupation of most people. The geographical area of the village is 3118 hectares and is situated at a distance of about 29 kms from Ottapalam, the sub-district headquarters. The nearest town is located approximately 5-10 kms away. Paddy fields and palm trees punctuate the scenic topography of the village.


      Vellinezhi experiences pleasant climate during winter months and hot climate during summer months. March is the hottest month for the village, with temperatures soaring to about 36 degree Celsius. In contrast, January is the coldest month and temperatures drop to 19 degree celsius. Unsurprisingly, it rains every month in Vellinezhi except in January. June has the highest precipitation percent (84.4%) and February has the lowest (5.9%). Humidity remains high in every month of the year and wind speed is highest during monsoon months.


      Palakkad town, the main city of the district, lies about 40 kms to the east of Vellinezhi. The village is accessible by two national highways, namely, NH966 and NH181. The nearest airport is the Nedumbassery airport at Kochi which lies 100 kms to the south of the village. The village has several bus stops and buses come and go frequently. Unfortunately, Vellinezhi does not have a railway station and residents must travel to Vailapuzha which is 11 kms away. There are quite a few schools in the village but information on the existence of colleges and higher level educational centres is unavailable.

      Generally, one can say that connectivity to and from Vellinezhi is quite poor but this is characteristic for rural areas in India. Since 2012, Vellinezhi is a kalagramam which has attracted a considerable number of researchers and students to study its Kathakali culture. In order to promote Kathakali, it is imperative for the government to build and improve infrastructure and connectivity to the village.


      By creating a beautiful combination of different cultures and traditions, this village charms its way into every traveller’s heart. Vellinezhi showcases unique features to keep pace with the socio-cultural sphere. A devout town, the majority of houses in this region is built in typical Kerala style of architecture with tilted roof and white washed walls. Due to various ancient and historic structures situated in this town, it gives an aesthetic appeal to this town.


      Vellinezhi is infused with a rich sense of artistic culture. As mentioned before, it is widely believed that at least one person from every household in the village is employed in work related to Kathakali! The village has also produced many talented Kathakali dancers, musicians and artisans. A number of playwrights who have written material for Kathakali plays have also taken birth here. In 2012, the village was bestowed with the title of Kalagramam in a bid to support and bring attention to Kathakali and the countless minor but significant theatrical art forms that are prevalent there even today. In the past, however, this feeling of cultural richness was quite strong. Presently, due to urbanisation and modernisation, less people are inclined to participate in traditional forms of recreation and therefore, demand for such arts and crafts has declined. More people are turning towards other forms of employment.


      Vellinezhi is a small village and has conventionally had a mid-sized population. In recent times, people have started to migrate to Vellinezhi but the total population has not witnessed a drastic increase. According to the 2011 Census, 20,168 people reside in the village. Of these, 48.22% are males and 51.77% are females. The sex ratio of the village is 1064 which is slightly lower than the state average of 1074 females per 1000 males. The village’s total literacy rate stood at 85.02%. Male literacy rate is 86.28% and female literacy rate is slightly lower and stands at 83.84%.

      Information on the religious demographics of the village is unavailable. But, looking at the general trend of Palakkad district, one can expect the majority population in the village to be Hindu, followed by Muslims and Christians. Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and other religious groups must constitute a narrow minority in the village.

      Famous For:

      Besides being home to the Kothavil family, which is the oldest family producing headgear for Kathakali, the quaint village is also popular for Adakkaputhur mirror, Thottara knife and Kuruvattur Madawal. Amongst a community known as Tharaks, the Pana ritual is also performed popularly.


      List of craftsmen.

      Documentation by:

      Team Gaatha

      Process Reference:








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      Cluster Reference:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vellinezhi https://www.academia.edu/38611282/The_Voyage_of_Vellinezhi https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zamorin https://www.onmanorama.com/travel/kerala/2018/07/18/vellinezhi-ar-village-old-world-charm.html https://wanderlog.com/weather/7515/8/vellinezhi-weather-in-august http://www.onefivenine.com/india/villages/Palakkad/Sreekrishnapuram/Vellinezhi