The Kathakali literature has as its rich background an enormous amount of labour and research in the realms of art, literature and music. The religious devotion to the art, the impersonal participation in it, a lofty craftsmanship in the governance of the tools, the rhythm and emotion are the distinguishing features of this classical dance-drama which draws vital inspiration from the stories of the Indian Puranas. The lyrical sublimity and epic grandeur of the Kathakali are unique. Rhythm, harmony and cadence, the primary requisites of dance are in evidence in the Kathakali. Kathakali comprises a mixture of the various types of religious, folk, artistic and martial dances prevalent in Malabar from very ancient times.
The eight plays composed by the Raja of Kottarakkara, some six hundred years ago are not nowadays put to large used by Kathakaliactors, as it is considered that the plays are out of date both in respect of their literary merit and adaptability to dance. Though the plays by the Raja of Kottayam, written about four hundred and fifty years back, are of considerable literary merit, they also do not find favour with the public at present.
Towards the close of the 17th century there flourished Unnaayi Varier who composed four plays on the story of Nala. Superb in literary excellence, dignified in diction, and difficult to act his plays broke convention and became easily the most popular. The twelve compositions by H.H Kartika Thirunal and H.H Aswati Thirunal who flourished towards the close of the 19th century are also popular. Irayimman Tampi, court poet of H.H Swati Thirunal wrote three plays which are of first ranking and are most often performed.