Art forms of Kerala

Kerala is world known for its art and cultural forms which includes classical arts, rituals, religious arts, folklores, martial arts etc. Kerala art Forms have appreciated and awarded in many international venues and the art lovers from across the world is coming to Kerala for the fulfillment of their artistic ambition on Kerala art forms. Kerala has its glorious heritage in both classical as well as Traditional folk arts. UNESCO has recognized Kerala’s Koodiyattam as a unique art form as well as Kathakali, Kalarippayattu, Drum Processions etc are well known in many foreign countries. Most of the art forms have a mythical back ground and legendary story to tell to the world, so that it reveals the story of the region and life.Kerala Travel Exotica is arranging various travel prgrammes to experience these art forms at the stages where it plays .


Kalarippayattu is the only form of the most ancient traditional systems of physical, culture, self-defence and martial techniques still in existence. It is believed to have had its origin in Kerala, the tiny state situated South West of India. There are two forms of Kalari, one Vatakkan ‘Northern’ and another one Tekkan ‘Southern’. In Vatakkan, three types viz Arappukkai, Pillattaanni and Vatteel tirippu were the most important and they had wide publicity. It is believed that Sage Agastya was the Guru of Tekkan form of Kalari. The Tekkan type was more important than Vadakkan. But the use of different kinds of weapons and the beauty of performance made the Vadakkan Kalari become famous.


Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world which is originated in the area of southwestern Indian state Kerala . Kathakali is a group presentation, in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on themes from Hindu mythology, especially the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. Characters are categorized according to their nature. This determines the colours used in the make-up. The faces of noble male characters, such as virtuous kings, the divine hero Rama, etc., are predominantly green. Characters of high birth that have an evil streak, such as the demon king Ravana, are allotted a similar green make-up, slashed with red marks on the cheeks. Extremely angry or excessively evil characters wear predominantly red make-up and a flowing red beard. Forest dwellers such as hunters are represented with a predominantly black make-up base. Women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces.


The classical dance form of Mohiniattam was nurtured in the region of Kerala in southwestern India. The name Mohiniattam literally means 'Dance of the Enchantress,' and it does have a mesmerizing quality. The white and gold costume, arresting hairstyle and the highly graceful movements in medium tempo, contribute to this aesthetic effect. Mohiniattam is characterized by swaying movements of the upper body with legs placed in a stance similar to the plie position. The eyes play an important role in accenting the direction of the movement.

Mention of Mohiniattam is found in some eighteenth century texts, but the practical aspect of the style was revived in the reign of Maharaja Swati Tirunal, a 19th century ruler who was a great patron of the arts. Under Swati Tirunal, Mohiniattam crystallized as a solo dance tradition with musical compositions set to the Carnatic style of music and a distinct repertoire. Later, in the twentieth century, the great poet Vallathol established the Kerala Kalamandalam to promote the arts of Mohiniattam and Kathakali. Here, further research was done and Mohiniattam was codified and revived.


Thullal, the folk dance form of Kerala is yet another gem in the vast repertoire of Kerala's performing arts. It has from its very inception, enjoyed a ready appeal with both the commoner and the connoisseur for unlike forms such as Koodiyattam, Krishnanattam, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, it requires no initiation to intelligently respond to it. One can easily react and enjoy Thullal without any prior exposure or sophisticated understanding. As this is composed in the language of the layman, it is known as the 'poorman's Kathakali'. The word Thullal belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and literally means 'jumping', this however can be extended to mean 'to leap about' or to 'cut a caper'.


It is believed to be india's oldest form of classical dance. This dance form which is called poetry in motion, has its hoary origins in the natya sastra written about 4000 b.c. by sage bharatha. This art form grossly disallows new fangled innovations or gimmicks except in repertoire and forms of presentation. It was originally known as 'dasi attam,' a temple art performed by young women called 'devadasis.' Bharatha natyam is commonly performed by women, but sometimes by men also. There are strict guidelines laid down regarding every single aspect of the art including the attributes required in order to be an accomplished dancer.


Also called koothu, is one of the oldest classical theatre arts of kerala. The solo dance is usually presented in the koothambalam of temples to the accompaniment of the mizhavu and elathalam. The performance begains with an invocation to the presiding deity of the temple. The narration is enlivened with the thandava dance movements, gestures and facial expression according to the guidelines in natya sastra. Koothu is distinct for its comic element which adds to its dramatic character. Themes are usually from the epics. The costume is colourful and bizarre with a strange headgear


Kootiyattam literally means "acting together". This is the earliest classical dramatic art form of Kerala. Based on Sage Bharatha's 'Natyasasthra' who lived in the second century, Kootiyattam evolved in the 9th century AD.The only extant classical Sanskrit theatre in India is Koodiyattam. This one thousand year-old theatre is the traditional privilege of Chakyars and Nambiars (temple-castes of Kerala). Chakyars enact the male roles and the Nangiars (women of Nambiar) take female roles. The actors and actresses render verbal acting in stylised Sanskrit and Prakrit (a colloquial form of Sanskrit) respectively. The make-up and dressing is less exuberant and more stylised. Mizhavu and Edakka provide the background music to Koodiyattam. Through sound modulation, the percussion instruments augment the effect of acting in this dance drama.Vidooshaka (Royal clown) in Koodiyattam tells the audience in the local language, Malayalam, with running humour, the thematic development of the text.


Thiruvathirakali is a classical dance form, which is a pointer to the old customs followed in the nair tharawads (joint families). In this dance form, the women of the house dance elegantly around the ceremonial lamp or floral decoration on festive occasions to the accompaniment of the thiruvathira pattu (song). Thiruvathirakkali or Kaikottikkali is a popular dance form of the women folk of Kerala. In this, eight to ten girls perform forming a circle by themselves. They sing and dance to the rhythm of clapping hands. Well-versed padams of Kathakali and Mohiniyatttam come alive in Thiruvathirakkali with a folk accent. The music and movements of Thiruvathirakkali has a native simplicity and lyrical grace. This graceful systematic group dance is performed on festivals like Onam and Thiruvathira.


Mohiniyattam is a dance form said to have originated in Kerala. It is closely related to Bharathanatyam of Tamil Nadu, which was originally called 'Dasiyattam'. Originated as the temple dance performed by Devadasis, it portrays feminine love in its myriad forms - carnal, devotional and maternal- with accent more on Lasya and Bhava. In the main items Cholkettu, Padavarnam and Padam, Mudras and facial expressions are more important than the rhythmic steps. Costumes and ornaments of Mohiniyattam have much in common with female characters of Koodiyattam and Kathakali. Once Mohiniyattam was performed only in Temples premises and royal courts. The first reference to Mohiniyattam is found in 'Vyavaharamala' composed by Mazhamangalam Narayanan Namboodiri, of 16th century AD. Major contributions to this art form were given by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, Irayimman Thampi and Kuttikunju Thankachi.


A dance form essential to the wedding entertainment and festivities of the Malabar Muslims. Maidens and young female relatives sing and dance around the bride, clapping their hands. The songs of Mappilappattu, are first sung by the leader and are repeated by the chorus. The themes are often teasing comments and innuendoes about the bride's anticipated nuptial bliss. Oppana is often presented as a stage item today.


The Theyyam is a popular ritual dance of north Kerala. It is also known as Theyyattam.It is usually the representation of a divine or heroic character from mythology and one of the most spectacular oldest temple art forms of Kerala.As a living cult with centuries old traditions, ritual and custom, it embraces almost all castes and classes of Hindu religion in this region. The term Theyyam is a corrupt form of daivam or God. It is a rare combination of dance and music and reflects important features of a tribal culture.


The neoclassical dances of Kerala represent a delicate fusion of the folk and classical traditions of Kerala's dances. But the fusion is not artistically complete to the extent that homogenous blending of the two dance forms has not been achieved to perfection. The neoclassical dances surfaced at some intermediate stage between the process of evolution from the folk tradition to the classical tradition. The neoclassical dance thus retain not only the essential flavours of the folk and classical traditions but project distinctive


A mixed dance in which both men and women participate. The performers move in a circle, striking small sticks and keeping rhythm with special steps. The circle expands and contracts as the dance progress. The accompanying music gradually rises in pitch and the dance reaches its climax .Sometimes it is performed on a specially constructed wooden stage .Thus the name thattinmelkali.


Mudiyettu is ritualistic dance springing form the Bhagavathy cult. The theme depicts the glory and triumph of Bhagavathy over the demon Darika. The characters are all heavily made up with gorgeous costumes, intricate and elaborate and with conventional facial paintings, tall head - gears etc. Attired and adorned exotically with a unique weirdness and hideousness, the characters seem quit supernatural. Their mien and array make them colorful, imposing and awe-inspiring in the extreme. The dance is performed by a set of people known as Kuruppanmar, mainly in Bhadrakali temple.


Margomkali is a ritual folk art of the Syrian Christians of Kottayam and Thrissur districts. A dozen dancers sing and dance around a lighted wick lamp ( Nilavilakku), clad in the simple traditional white dhoti and sporting a peacock feather on the turban to add a touch of colour.


A devotional offering performed in Bhadrakali temples. A set of performers known as Thiyyattunnis alone are entitled to perform it. The theme is usually the king of the Darika by Bhadrakali. The Unnis first draw the picture of Bhadrakali (called Kalam) on the floor, with a five different types of colour powers.


Painting in Kerala can be traced back to the 9th century, as evident from the murals in it's temples and the practice of Kalamezhuthu - the practice of drawing pictures of gods and goddesses on temple floors using five different types of colour powder.Raja Ravi Varma's numerous paintings of gods and goddesses adorn calenders even today, earning him the ire, critics usually reserve for a calender artist who promoted kitsch.But several of his works are flawlessly executed and display a mature sense of colour.


An old time industrial art is bell metal casting. One famous product is the Aranmula polished metal mirror, made of an alloy of copper and tin. In woodcraft, apart from the temple art tradition, kathakali models and accessories, weaving of mats, baskets, coir matting figure among it's handicraft. Since the ban on ivory trade, Kerala's ivory carvings, especially that of the snake boat are now made of buffalo horn.


Padayani or padeni colloquial speech, is one of the most colourful and spectacular ritual art associated with the festivals of certain temples in southern kerala (Alappuzha, Kollam, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts). The word padayani literally means military formations or rows of army, but in this folk art we have mainly a series of divine and semi-divine impersonations wearing huge masks or kolams of different shapes, colours and desingns painted on the stalks of arecanut fronds.


This classical dance is performed by the member of the professional Chakyar cast that too only in Koothambalam of temples. It is one of the oldest of theartrical arts peculiar to Kerala. The term Koothu literally means dance which may be taken as an index of the importance attached to dance in the original form of the art. As a matter of fact, the movements and facial expressions and the signs and gestures employed by the actor in Koothu are said to approximate most closely to the principles laid down in the authoritative Sanskrit treatise on the subject, Bharatha's Natya Sastra.


Mainly performed as a votive offering in temples where the presiding deity is lord Subrahmania. Here a number of dancers dressed in yellow or rose clothes and smeared all over the body with ashes and each with an ornate kavadi on the shoulder, dance in a row to the rhythmic beatings of instruments like udukku, chenda etc. Sometimes nagaswaram is also used.

Vela Kali

A marital dance of the Nair community. This depicts ancient warfare in Kerala in all its ferocity and valour. Armed with shining swords and shields in exotic costumes they dance with vigour and force. The dance ends with the victory of good over evil.


The kalam is a unique drawing also called dhulee chithram or powder drawing. The artist uses the floor as his canvas. Kalamezhuthu pattu is performed as part of the rituals to worship and propitiate gods like Kaali, Ayyappan or Vettakkorumakan.


Legends have it that as an offshoot of the rivalry between the Zamorin and the Raja of Kottarakara. The later created the Ramanattom. The dance - drama on the life of Rama. It was also for serial enactment on eight successive days. Here facial abhinaya and hand gestures were given more importance. The songs were all in Malayalam. In course of time the masks were discarded and a richer variety in facial make up was developed. It was this Ramanattom that developed into Kathakali


Pulikali is a art form performed in Trichur and Palghat districts. It is also known as Kaduvaakali. Dancers numbering three or more dress themselves up like tigers, usually covered with yellow paint,with red and black designs on it.


In Trichur District, Kummaattikkali begins on the dawn of Thiruvonam. The players and the people who play the musical instruments visit the temple and pay obeisance to God. They receive clothes as gifts from the local elder. Usually the Nairs perform Kummaatti.


A refinement of Ashtapadiatoom, evolved by Manavedan, the Zamorin was Krishnanattom. The whole story of Krishna was cast into a drama-cycle which would need eight nights for serial production. Vilwamangalam, a Krishna devotee, helped in designing the costume of Krishna. The actors in this dance drama have to conform themselves to the ballet element and mimetic expression. The narrative song is left to the musicians.


Pulluvars are a primitive Dravidian group. The term pullu means a bird of omen. The term pulluvan must have meant ‘a person who predicts from the sound of birds’. There are many sub-divisions within the Pulluva Community. The majority among them are called Nagampatikal(People who sing snake-songs). There are pulluvars who are not Naagampatikal. They are known as pretampatikal (People who sing ghost songs).


Thayambakam can be seen during festival days, especially when the temple deity is taken out in procession. Only chendas and elathalams are used. The artist uses his palm and stick for drumming.


Pancharimelam is mainly confined to temples. Chenda, komb, kuzhal and elathalam are the main instruments used. For a complete performance, the minimum requirements are 33 veekuchendas, 33 elathalams and 11 each of komb, kuzhal and muttuchenda. Pandimelam: This differs from Pancharimelam slightly, though the instruments used are the same. While the beating of chenda in Pancharimelam is done with two sticks, only one is used for drumming in Pandimelam. Another difference lies in the blowing of kuzhal, which in Pandimelam is done in Bhairav Raaga.Pandimelam can be seen in its full splendour during Pooram at the Sri Vadakkumnathan Temple compound in Thrissur.

Sarpam Thullal

Many ancient family houses in kerala have special snake shrines called Kavu. Sarpamthullal is usually performed in the courtyard of houses having snake shrines. This is a votive offering for family wealth and happiness. The dance is performed by members of a community called Pulluvar. In the first stage the Pulluvan draws a Kolam (picture) of two or more twining snakes in the courtyard. An oil - lit traditional lamp and one full measure (nirapara) each of paddy and rice are then placed in front of the kolam. In the second stage, the idol of the snake is brought out from the Kavu in a procession called thalapoli to the uproarious tumult of percussion instrument (panchavadya).

Velichappaadu Thullal

This is a ritual dance common with bhadrakalipattu, ayyappanapattu and veitaykorumakapattu. Since it seals with trances and evil spirits,only a few are allowed to perform it. Usually the members of the kallathukuruppanmar enjoy this right.In the first stageof the dance there is kalamezhuthu,in which the form of the deity is drawn on the floor with the aid of five types of coloured powders.Then devotional songs are sung to the accompaniment of nanthuni,a musical instrument.After this the dancer known as velichappadu enters,with red flowery clothes,red scarfs,a gridle of bells at the waist and a sword in hand slowly he gets into a trance and executes vigorous movements which is technically called idumkoorum chavittal.

Quick Enquiry
Our Services
Customer Reviews
Kerala car rentals
Photo Gallery
Copyright © 2010 Kerala travel exotica. All rights reserved. Web Design & Developed by Rub The Web