KATHAKALI is performed by men who in their youth have undergone an intensive course of physical training and a long period of instruction in abhinaya (acting) and nritta (dancing). The former is the representation of emotions and moods by expressions of the face supplemented by mudras, the descriptive and symbolic movement of the hands and fingers in a particular manner to signify an object or action.
The Kathakali actor uses mudras in place of the spoken word. The physical training which a Kathakali student has to undergo is very strenuous. In the cooler months of the monsoon season he has a daily session of eye exercises and gymnastics from 3 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. which ends up with an oil massage. This is a special feature of the training in which the teacher, holding to a bar, massages the student with his feet and toes, working gingelly oil into every joint and muscle. The process is painful, but it does create the required fitness and flexibility of body that is demanded by the incredibly exacting tradition of the Kathakali stage.