Kathakali, the pearl of Kerala, is a beautifully rich art form. Its ascetics are stunning, its music vital, and its stories are essential to the people and culture that cultivated its life. Also, Kathakali is wonderfully complex.

Being a work of art, Kathakali is a system. As a system, it possesses multiple members or parts that make the whole of it. Namely, these members are: history, text, audio (vocals and instruments), practice, acting, visuals (costume and make-up), environment, and the crew.

To understand Kathakali, to understand the whole, one must first understand each individual member. Therefore, following this introduction will be a comprehensive analysis describing each member of this system in the same sequence as listed above.

But this will not be enough. In understanding each member we understand nothing more than just that—we only understand each member and not the system itself. Only when we understand each member of a system as well as how each member relates to every other member does one understand a system. Being so, near the end of this paper, following all of the descriptions of each member, will be a description of the relationships between each member to each other member. In the way, Kathakali will be understood.