The make-up of Kathakali character is peculiarly native to the Kerala folk-art. Color symbolism reflects certain categories of emotions and gunas. The green color represents Saattvika reveals godliness, white represents spirituality. Red represents Rajasic reveals violence. Black represents Tamasic reveals evil. Yellow represents the combined character of Saatvika and Rajasic.
Elaborate make- up heightens dramatic effects.
It takes nearly three to four hours to complete the make-up which is done in stages, and the duration varies according to the character and complexity of the costume.
Theppu is the first stage where the artiste himself applies the basic facial paintings. On this the Chuttikkaran (make-up man) puts the Chutti which forms the second stage of make-up.
The Chutti plays a crucial role in differentiating the characters and their personality and has the following basic classification:- Pacha (green), Kathi (knife), Thadi (beard) and Kari (black).
All the colors used in the make-up are obtained from natural substances and herbs. For example, the red and yellow colors are made by powdering stones like Chaayilyam and Manayola respectively. A mixture of lime and rice flour serves for white. The green color is produced by mixing Manayola and Neelam (blue). Coconut oil is used as the base for mixing these stone powders. Another stone, Chenchilyam is powdered and applied in order to protect the skin from burns. Kanmashi or Kajal (the black substance) is prepared by burning gingelly oil. Kumkumam or saffron is also used for the make-up. However, now-a-days many of these color mixing processes have been replaced by easily available material like paper pulp etc.
Uduthukettu is the third stage in dressing. Stiff tapes of white cloth are wound around the waist, with the help of others and are bound together with another piece of cloth, the Kacha. Ulluvaal, Puramvaal, Pattuvaal etc are the different cloth pieces used for the elaborate bulky skirt of a Kathakali artiste. The anklets, colorful and ornate vests, jewellery and the huge headgear complete the Kathakali costume.
Thus Kathakali characters are grouped into five major role-types, each having a specific make-up and costume. These role types are Minukku, Paccha, Katti,Thaadi and Kari.