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Home ! Exotic Kerala ! Traditional Arts

This classical art form is more than four centuries old, and literally means “story play”. It is considered unique because of its marvellous blending of the elements of the miracle play, dance drama, opera and pantomime.
Its origin in primitive form is estimated to be more than 1500 years old and its present version is indebted to every formalised dance that has gone before it. Its high regard for style is reflected in each of its aspects, and strict meticulousness is observed even on trivial details: in costume, makeup, gesture, movements, facial expressions and language. The actors have to undergo intensive training and long periods of instruction in acting and dancing techniques
The themes of Kathakali are drawn from the rich pool of Indian myth, and its characters, from all the three worlds-the world of gods, the world of humans and the world of demons. The stories chronicle the lives, loves and times of gods, demons and humans, highlighted by the interplay of human passions.
Kathakali is said to be the only classical style in India that has preserved the thandava (masculine) element in its primal vigour. As such it is also considered as the finest example of subtle artistic evolution, from base crudity to high refinement, yet preserving the original essence.
Kathakali, the complete art, constitutes of three fine arts-Abhinayam (acting), Nrityam (dancing) and Geetham (singing). It is a pantomime in which the actors do not sing or speak, but interpret their ideas and emotions through a highly sensitive medium of appropriate gestures, picturesque sign language and vivid facial expressions that are universally understandable. It is a subtle combination of drama and dance, with the former dominating throughout. The histrionics involved is of a very high order and far profounder than the usual acting stuff. This order of histrionics is classified in Bharathamuni’s NatyaSastra as the imaginative type, apart and distinct from the realistic acting.
Every subtle emotion is idealised and expressed with rare vividness and intensity that compensates for the absence of the spoken word. Each shade of such facial expression and body or limb movement is made to harmonise with the rhythm of the dance and melody of the music. It becomes a medium not just for personalised emotion but for the objective realisation of the characters, scenes, creatures and things around. The Mudras (hand gestures) help in the explication of ideas.
Music is a very important and essential aspect of Kathakali. Two vocal musicians sing, one keeping time with a resounding gong called chengala and the other with a pair of clanging elathalam. One chenda and a maddalam provide thepercussion. The music is classified in the Sopana category of Carnatic music which is typically Keralan and characteristically slow. The music preserves the broad features of the classical style and avoids the elaborate aspects such as Raga, Ragaalapana, Niraval and Swara. Instead, it strictly adheres to the Tala (rhythm) giving fuller scope to Abhinaya.
The costumes for the Kathakali are designed for the various mythical characters presented. There are five major types of costume designs, each having set modes of makeup, attire and adornment. Each type denotes certain characteristics or qualities possessed by the character. These types are usually known by the predominant color applied to the face or its pattern. They are Pacha (green), Kathi (knife), Thadi (beard), Kari (black) and Minukku (polished).
Pacha denotes virtous and noble characters. The Kathi type includes the proud, aggressive and unrighteous characters. Thadi or the beard type are of three varieties – Chokanna Thadi (red beard) denotes the aggressive and demonic. Vellathadi (white beard) denotes mythical and fabulous beings like the monkey-gods, and Karutha Thadi (black beard), the tribesmen, forest-men and cave dwellers. The Kari type represents low characters. The Minukku type represents women, sages, brahmins, etc., whose appearance has a polished look.
The costume and the ornamentation in Kathakali are elaborate and fashioned to heighten the superhuman effect. Large topcoats, flowing scarves, bulging skirts, antique-looking ornaments, opulent headgears with long flowing hair are complemented by the sculptured and multicoloured facial features.
Kathakali is presented at dusk usually in the precincts of temples at the occasion of its festivals: sometimes continuously upto ten days.
Each night will feature an act of the play. Two backup artists hold a curtain and remove it to signify the start and finish of each scene. The performance will be on a raised platform and lasts till daybreak
In technical content, this art is similar to Koothu. Patakam avoids the dance element and the narration is done by prose and song sequences.
It however retains the gestures and some body movements of Koothu. But it differs in language used. Patakam uses a literary form known as champu which accommodates a lot of Malayalam words as substitutes for those Sanskrit.
Literally, Padakam means “dissertation” and is performed by members of the Nambiar caste even outside temple precincts.
The presentation is done on a raised platform that serves as stage. The dancer wears a red head-dress and on the wrist, red silk. He will have garlands around the neck and lines made with sandalwood paste across his forehead.
This classical artform is performed by members of the Chakyar caste in the Koothambalam of temple. It is one of the oldest theatrical arts peculiar to Kerala. The original form was dominated by dance as denoted by the word koothu. The movements, facial expressions, signs and gestures employed by the Chakyar in tis performance are said to approximate most closely to the principles of Natya Sastra.
The performance is a solo dance done by the Chakyar. A member of the Nambiyar caste beats rhythm on the mizavu (alarge copperpot) and nangiyar women play the elathalam.
The Chakyar stands on the platform of the Koothambalam in special headgear and peculiar makeup. At first he offers prayers to the deity residing at the temple where he performs. Later he recites averse in Sanskrit and then explain sit in Malayalam. The themes are based on the epics. The actor enliven his narration with thandava dance, gestures and body postures derived from Natya Sastra.
Koothu is distinct for its comic element which dominates time and again. Combined with gestures and interspersed with occasional dances, the narrative art is made dramatic. The actor never misses an opportunity to make humerous and witty statements about political and social situations. Criticism of contemporary events and personalities also figure in the narration. This is essentially a classical art presented only in temple precincts.
This art form is believed to be the forerunner of the dramatic arts of Kerala. Literally meaning “dancing together”. Koodiyattam is presented by members of the Chakyar community as a votive offering in Koodiyattams, special theatres put up inside the precincts of temples. It is perhaps the oldest dance drama in existence in India.
The performance is based on Sanskrit texts and its performance takes from a few days to a number of weeks
At the time of performance, Koodiyattamthe Koodiyattam will be decorated with fruit bearing plantains, bunches of tender coconuts and festooned with the fronds of coconut palm. A vessel filled with paddy is placed alongside a lit nilavilakku on the stage. In a railed enclosure on the stage, a drummer (a member of the Nambiyar community) will sit near a large cuppor drum called mizavu. A woman of the Nangiar caste plays elathalam and occasionally recites the verses. At tomes, other instruments like etakka, maddalam, conch, pipe and horn are also used.
At first, the drum is sounded and the Nangiar woman recites the invocatory verse (vandana slokam). After that the purificatory ceremony is done by the Nambiyar. Then follows an interlude of orchestra, Koothupurappadu, Nirvachana, Prusharta, etc. In the performance all of the types of Abhinaya-Angikam, Vachikam, Sathvikam and Aharyam are fully utilised. However, in the course of its presentation, there is a significant departure from tradition, which is a remarkable feature of Koodiyattam.
The colourful makeup patterns used in Koodiyattam are the predecessors of the ones in Kathakali. However, in the pattern there is no strict standardisation of types.
The stage is simple, bereft of ornamental trimmings.
This dance-drama was evolved by the king of Calicut by refining another art form, Ashtapadhiyattam. Krishnanattam was created as a votive offering to Lord Krishna and it survives in that capacity at Guruvayoor temple in Trichur district.
This art form, in which the stress is given on group movements and group compositions, is a drama-cycle presented as a serial spanning eight nights. The performance is based on the Sanskrit text, Krishna Geetha. The actors have to conform themselves to a uniform set of gestures, facial expressions and movements.
In the presentation of this dance drama, many of the characteristics of the earlier ritual folk dances such as Thiyattam, Mudiyattu and Theyyam come into play. They are especially pronounced in the painting of the face in intricate designs, gorgeous and spectacular costumes in bright colours and fabulous headgears. The costumes, makeup and the ornaments have a resemblance to Kathakali attire, but they also include painted wooden masks. The costumes for this classical art was designed by a Krishna devotee by the name of Vilwamangalam.
In Krishnanattam more importance is given to nritta (pure dance) devoid of elaborate gestures, hand signs and abhinaya. On all the eight nights of Krishnanattam, lovely group dances executed in perfect coordination provide graceful and stylish entertinment. Musical instruments used are maddalam, elathalam and chengala.
Among the classical performing arts of Kerals, Thullal is distinct with its simplicity of presentation and its frank, outspoken wit and humour. The songs are in simple Malayalam and the techniques employed in this art are not rigid, though they are based on the classical principles of Natya Sastra, a treatise on art originating in the 2nd century B.C
Thullal is said to have been originated by Kunchan Nambiar, a veritable genius and one of the foremost poets of Kerala. It is said to have been a modification of Koothu.
Thullal is a solo dance exposition with the dancer himself singing the lead to the accompaniment of maddalam and elathalam (cymbal). The cymbal player who makes the rhythm assists the Thullakkaran (actor or dancer-singer) in siging.
As the performance begins, the cymbal player sings the invocation song, while the dancer faces the orchestra and pays obeisance. After the song the dancer goes through certain steps and movements of the body. Then he turns to the audience, and the dance proper begins.
The player sings a verse and while the lines are being repeated by his musical assistant, he brings out the meaning through facial expressions, hand gestures and bodily postures. The roles of the raconteur and actor are perpetually interchanged with tremendous aesthetic effect. In one moment he is the narrator, but in the next he completely identifies himself with the narration.
In Thullal primary importance is attributed to dance. Throughout the performance the dance element predominates but lacks variety. In-order to avoid monotony, the dancer executes some vigorous footsteps and rhythmic movements of the body.
There are three different types of Thullal, classified according to the metre and rhythm of the songs sung in each one and the differences in costume and dance. They are Ottan, Seethankan and Parayan.
This is the most popular among the Thullals. In this performance, the actor wears a long tape of cloth of white and red color looped around a waist-string to form a knee-length skirt. A chest plate adorned by various types of coloured beads, glass and tinsel, and other ornaments are used. Wooden bangles painted with bright colours are worn on the wrist and wooden ornaments are worn on the shoulders. Tinkling bells are tied to the legs just above the calf. The face is painted green and lips, red, and eyes are emphasised with black paint. The headdress is colourful and richly decorated. The metre and rhythm of Ottanthullal songs are fast-paced and the dance too has a high tempo.
The songs and dance in this form of Thullal are slower than Ottanthullal in metre and rhythm and in tempo. The dancer uses the same sort of skirt used in Ottanthullal. But the ornaments on the arms, wrists and head are different, made of fresh tender coconut fronds. There is no special facial makeup except the darkening of the eyes.
This is the slowest in tempo among the three Thullals. Even the stance and posture of the performer is different from that of the other two Thullas.
In this, the dancer stays erect and explains the meaning of the songs by gestures. There is a very little dance element as well as action. The costume is red flowery cloth worn around the waist. A crown of black cloth adorns the head. Necklaces are worn on the chest, and the face is painted a light yellow.
Thullal is usually presented inside the precincts of temples during festivals.


This is one of the most colourful and spectacular folk events associated with the festivals of certain temples in southern Kerala (Karakkedu, Pandalam, Kadammanitta and Chengannur).
Padayani, like all ritualistic arts, had its origins in religion, but today it is viewed more as a folk art with a genuine secular appeal.
Literally, the word Padayani means “rows of army”. The actual performance is a symbolic victory march of Kali after vanishing Darika. The performers dressed up as kolams, impersonating these characters, present a dance procession which usually ends at the altar of the deity. It consists of a procession of the divine army of Bhadrakali with other divine and semi-divine personalities.
In a regular performance there will be a minimum of 12 kolams. The most important of them are Bhairavi (Kali), Kalan (god of death), Yakshi (a goddesses), Pakshi (bird),etc. The kolam will have a huge headgear with many projections and devices, and a mask for the face and a chest-piece to cover the breast and abdomen of the performer.
These kolams with the intricately designed marks are made in a variety of shapes, colours and designs with stalks of areca nut fronds.
There is no time limit for this performance. Naked torches and nowadays petromax provide the lighting at night.
This dance is traditionally performed by Nairs who were well versed in the martial training of Kalaripayattu, but without use of weapons. The kolams were traditionally painted by members of the Ganaka community.
Sometimes these dancers attain a certain frenzied state that culminates in running around and extremely vigorous dancing. Sometime there are enactments, humorous dialogues and ballads. Performances at a fixed spot also take place at times.
There are singers who sing a different song for each kolam. The singing and dancing that fluctuates in tempo is accompanied by a simple drum called thappu and elathalam.
Theyyam is a primitive ritualistic art form performed in North Kerala, especially in Cannannore district, which was erstwhile kingdom of Kolathunadu. In artistry, symbolism and spectacle, it is one of the most outstanding folk arts of Kerala.
This elaborate and painstaking art form demands long hours of labour at a stretch for its performance with a minimum of ten backstage artists for one performer.
Theyyam denotes a Kolam, which literally means a form or shape, and represents a character in a story that is a myth about its origin. The character is invariably either divine or heroic.
Theyyam, the performing art is also known by two other names, each representing one of its two basic aspects. Its divine aspect predominates in the main event of the performance and hence, is named Kaliyattam, literally meaning the dance of Kali. Kali is the female aspect of cosmic energy and is also known in Kerala as Bhadrakali, Bhagavathi, Durga, Sakthi and Devi.
Theyyam’s social association can be discerned in its other name, Therayattam, because every thera or village is bound to perform this ritual at the village temple called kavu housing the Goddess (in some cases deity may differ, but most usually it is Devi because of her traditional association with the natives) . Since the word ‘Kali’ has a connotation for safety in Malayalam language, it also served to quell apprehensions of social insecurity.
The chief subdivision of Theyyam is called Thira, and so the whole performance is also called Theyyam-Thira. It represents a legendary social figure and depicts its heroic exploits.
Thira is a whole in itself regarding its theme, and is usually presented before the main event.
The Thira performance begins with the rendering of a song called Thottam, which tells the story of origin of the particular Theyyam about to be enacted, its history and accomplishments. It is sung by a group of people led by the chief performer dressed in silk and with a crown on his head. The song is sung standing in front of the chamber of the deity called Kottam or Palliyara.
The song is accompanied by two types of drums (chenda and vekuchenda), small cymbals (elathalam) and horns (kuzhal).
After the song starts Vellttam or Vellattu. It comprises various dances and physical feats done by the performer dressed in regal splendour. The Theyyam wears a crown and other ornaments and weapons. This part of the dance represents the youthful stage of the theyyam. After Vellattam the main ritual begins.
The performer goes to the green room for costume change. After coming to the performance area, the performer wears the curious headgear and certain ornaments. This act sets the ritual rolling and it begins with the rendering of Thottam.
The next stage is the climax of the ritual, which is called the Urayal. This is a spectacular event with frenzied shaking and shivering of theyyam. At this time the deity is believed to possess the theyyam, and after this starts Atta and Thiranotta that includes energetic dances with variations in pace. The slow dancing is called Pathiniyattam and the fast-paced dance is called Elakiyattam.
After the vigorous dance, the theyyam becomes a medium for the deity to hear the grievances of devotees and offers them oracle-like utterances. This section is called Uriyattu Kelpikkuka and Kuri Kodukkuka. There is also a practice among devotees to offer money to the theyyam at the concluding session of the act.
The performance ends when the performer removes his headgear.
Being the manifestation of a deity or a historical or legendary personality, each theyyam or kolam has a specific form and design associated with the character it assumes. Each will have special features in face-painting, and filing I\of dress, hood and ornaments. The face-painting is a work of difficult craftsmanship and is unique piece of art. Traditional time fixed for painting faces of certain kolams is eight to ten hours. Such meticulousness is also devoted to fashioning the variously shaped and furnished crowns, headdress, breastplates, bangles, bracelets, garland and fabric. The crowns and articles of dress of certain kolams receive further addition of pictorial cuttings of white tender coconut leaves and bunches of red flowers.
Besides the elaborate décor, the kolam carries on its person weapons such as bows and arrows, swards, shields, spears, etc. Certain Theyyams wear lighted torches jutting from their waist and headgear.
There are around 350 Theyyams in North Kerala, each with its distinct shape, form and story of origin. Out of that only 150 of them are presented outside temple premises.
For the face-painting (mukathezhuthu), materials used are palm leaf (panayola), turmeric, eye-shadow black, slaked lime and charcoal. For making certain masks, stems of arecanut front s are used.
The performers are traditional doctors and practitioners of anoccult art similar to witchcraft known as mantravadam, belonging to the following indigenous communities: Vannan, Malayan, Velan, Munnuttan, Anchottan, Pulayan Chingathan and Mavilan. Males above the age of 18 are allowed to play the roles in the ritual.
Apart from the common features of theyyams previously mentioned , there are slight differences and variations in style among theyyams of different places. More than one theyyam are presented at times, and then the number of backstage performers also increases. The theyyam is performed during both day and night, but usually the performance begins by night after the elaborate preparations. Sometime these performances continue even after daybreak.
Cloth torches (pantham) and palm leaf torches (choottu) are used to light up the performance area. The red glow of the torches lends an enchanting aura to the vibrant event.
Usually flat ground in front of a temple is used for performance. Sometimes elevated stages are also used. When theyyams are performed at new places, it is a usual practice to make a temporary temple for the deity with palm leaves and fronts, and perform before it.
The performances start in the Malayalam month of Thulam beginning in October and last till Edavam, the month of May.
There are three forms of Thiyyattu prevalent in Kerala. This ritual art is performed as a devotional offering to Bhadrakali in the first two forms and to Ayyappa the last. Except that this is a very ancient art form, nothing much is known about its origin. However there are certain common features such as Kalamezuthu (the depiction of the kalam or the design in five colours on the floor) beneath a decorated ‘pandal’, placing the traditional lamp and stool (peetam) before the Kalam and the major event, the dance performed in front of it.
¤¤ Thiyyattu
The ritual art known as Thiyyattu performed in the villages of Central Travancore (South Kerala) especially in Alleppey, Chengannur and Kuttamperur, was exclusively conducted by Namboodiries and Thiyyattunnis. Usually they were performed in the homes of influential Brahmins and in places of the ruling class.
At dusk, the rituals starts with punnyaham, or the purification ceremony, done at a suitable place in the yard and a fruit-bearing plantain tree planted at the site. Then the depiction of the kalam stars after offering prayers to the deity. Then the performer begins to sing and dance to the rhythm stuck by musical instruments like veekuchenda, elathalam and chengala.
The costume of the chief performer consists of a dhoti drawn up between legs and hitched up behind, a crown resembling that of Ottanthullal dancers, the torso covered by a dress similar to those used in Kathakali, shoulder epaulets, thick bangles, big jingling anklets and a makeup design with tiny dots on the face.
The performance lasts till daybreak.
¤¤ Kali Thiyyattu
This form of thiyyattu is conducted usually at Bhadrakali temples and sometimes in Ayyappa temples. This is performed by Thiyyattunnis of the Antrala sect.
In this performance, only one performer is needed, backed by three or four backstage artists. After the preliminaries like Ganapathipooja and conception of ‘Amma’, Velapattu, drawing of the kalam, Sandhya (dusk), Kottu (drumming) and Ethirelpu (reception) are conducted.
After this, The chief performer enters the arena in the grab of Kali and starts the dance. The performance portrays through song and dance, an episode in the Bharakali myth. Kali after slaying the demon Darika goes back to Kailasa and witnesses Siva doing the naked dance (Digambaranritta) and feels ashamed.
The dance starts with the Kali performer with his back to the lamp, which symbolises the dancing Siva. Then Kali proceeds to narrate to Siva her fight against Darika. This is the theme of the performance
After the dance is over, the performer lapses back into the role of the poojari (priest) and conclude the ceremony. The concluding sequence is Thiriyuzhichil (passing naked flame over the body) which usually occurs at day break.
Veekuchenda, Elathalam and Chengala are the musical instruments used
The makeup of the performer consists of blackening the face with charcoal paste, red0coloured Thetchi flowers are pasted on the forehead and cheeks, and artificial flowing hair is worn on the head. Décor on the face resemble small-pox sears I sanother effet given to the artists.
¤¤ Ayyappan Thiyyattu
This is also known as Ayyappan Koothu and is performed in certain Ayyappan temples in North Kerala-Malanekavu, Pottekavu, Chamravattakavu in Ponnani District and Cheruplasseri kavu, Pulinkavu, etc., in Palghat District.
Thiyadi Nambiyars are the people who perform this art.
There will be two performers, one Nambiyar to do Koothu and another to perform Velichappadu (the oracle) besides the backup artists.
The performance starts at noon with the Nambiyar singing and beating on Para (a big chenda). In the evening, a kalam is prepared, and around it, cucumber, paddy, coconuts, etc., are placed. The Nambiyar comes and sits near the Kalam and resumes his songs playing on the para. The next phase is the play of Nandikeswaran, enacted by the Nambiar, and the origin of Ayyappa or Sastha is the main theme enacted. The enactment which is called Koothu will use the mudras or gestures similar to those of Kathakali.
After the Koothu is over, the velichappadu enters and in the final phase of his dances erases the kalam and distributes the colour powders used as Prasdam.
The performance lasts till daybreak. Para and chenda are the percussion instruments used.
The costumes consists of red jacket, turban, vadyam and pandangal (heavy ornaments) on arms and leg.
This is a martial art performed by Christians, Thiyyas and some other communities in the district of Palghat,Malappuram,
Ernakulam and Kottayam. It can be traced to the ancient days of Kerala when Kalaripayattu was in vogue.
There is no age limit to the dancers numbering six to sixteen persons who form a group and perform this art form. There will be a leader called Asan who is encircled by the performers bearing sward and shields. The Asan sing songsringing a bell and the performers dance round faking a sward battle. They will be dressed in white cloth with red wrist-bands and will sing in chorus as they dance. The dance will gradually become vigorous and extremely active.
The musical accompaniment is just restricted to elathalam and the din made by the rhythamic clapping of swards and shields. The songs are devoted to martial themes.
The dance is performed both as an offering and as a community entertainment.
Among the martial folk arts, this is one of the most spectacular and extremely vigorous dances performed in Kerala. Originating among the Nairs, the traditional warriors of Kerala, this dance is now presented by other Hindu sects also.
Velankali is a ritual art form presented in the temple courtyard or in the precincts of the temple tank.
When the rituals are performed in the temple courtyard with the deity taken out in a procession on an elephant, this performance is called Thirumbil vela, which literally means Vela (the performance) in front of the deity. If the rituals are performed near the temple pond, it is called Kulathilvela.
The dancers numbering fifty or more are dressed up like traditional soldiers with colourful shields and shining swards. Sometimes the swards are replaced with long canes. They go through war-like steps in a accompaniment of martial music with vigour and force. Thavil, suddha maddalam, elathalam, horns and trumpets are the instruments used for background effect.
In some places, the dancers are joined by flag-waving local people who grouped behind them and chant words signifying the particular dance-step in progress. In some others, dancers Known as Velamudikkars wearing masks of tigers and bears provide some kind of fun to the spectators.
The general dance phases are highlighted by the various rhythms known as Otta, Mathram, Padivattam, etc. As the dance proceeds, two or three dancers emerge from the row and display fighting techniques of Kalaripayattu.
The dancers are in fabulous attire with a conical head-dress, with the cone pointing to one side and a beading of jari work at the lower edge. Their chest will be covered with beads and other types of garlands, Armlets and epaulets are also used.
Though the time of exact origin of this art form is unknown, it is recorded that the families of Mathur Panikkar and Valoor Kurup maintained Vela troupes for the king of Chempakassery (Ambalapuzha). Later this art form was developed and encouraged by the Ambalapuzha chieftains.
This is a ritualistic art performed in Devi temples during festivals in South Kerala, especially in Trivandrum district. Kuthiyattam which requires five persons for performance is usually presented by members of the Ezhava community involved in agricultural labour.
One of the performers will wear a crown similar to the one used in Ottanthullal and three other characters will have distinct facial makeup. There is no specification in regard to costumes.
The performance starts at a suitable place with a nilavilakku placed at the arena. Red curtains are used as partition. The performers sing and dance rhythmically to the beat of percussion instruments.
A wide variety of songs include the praise of Durga (Kali) and other deities, padappattu (war songs) and kalaripattu (martial art songs). Sometimes, humorous songs are also sung.
Musical instruments used are ganjira, bells and chaplankatta (a device made of wood used by fingers to make rapping sound).
This ritualistic art form is prevailed in north and north-central Kerala with slight differences. There is a temple art by the same name Kalampattu among the communities of Kuruppanmar, Thiyyambadi and Thiyyadi who draw kalam in Ayyappa and Bhadrakali temples and perform a ritual. But kalampattu or kalamezhuthu, the popular folk art, is performed by
Kaniyar and Pruvannan communities in north Kerala and by Kallattukurupanmar in north-central Kerala. These performers traditionally make a living by weaving baskets with palm leaf. This art form is believed to be around 600 years old. In a performance, five to fifteen people take part. In some places Kalampattu done by Kaniars is a customary ritual-aid for safe pregnancy, for aiding reproduction and for sound physical health.
The rituals begin with the drawing of the kalam picture in five colours on the ground by using vegetable colours. In the kalam picture, the form of Bhadrakali is depicted. The kalam, near which the performance takes place, is drawn inside a pandal. At four corners of the pandal are hung special lamps, and nilavilakku placed near the kalam. A possessed woman accompanied by married women, all neatly dressed with hair tied to the side of the head, will enter the kalam. The singers begin the kalamirakkupattu, the first one in a series of songs. This is followed by a ritual known as kalathilari, then kizhiyedukal that involves a sealed earthen pot taken inside the kalam. At this time, women holding bouquets of coconut flowers stand near the kalam. What ensures is the badhachalanapattu, the song for exorcising evil spirits
The next phase is the rendering of songs narrating stories from classical literature, viz, Balavijayam, Kalyanasougandhikam, Darikavatham, Nalacharithm, Sandanagopalam, etc.
The performance comes to a close with polivupattu.
In the central region, various other characters such as Ayyappa, Vetteykorumakan, Anthimahakalan are included in the kalam. The notable differences here is the inclusion of songs, each one in praise of a deity depicted in the kalam.
Uchapattu, Kalamezhuthu, Sandhya Vela (drumming), Pooja, Pattu, Velichappadu are the various items presented, one by one in that order.
Nanthuni and elathalam are the musical instruments used. For the velichappadu, there will not be any special costume.
This is an ancient art form presented as community entertainment in some places of Kerala. IT is spread all over Kerala with slight variation from place to place.
Dances, songs and bits of enactment in the manner of musical plays predominate this art form performed exclusively by the Kurava community. The Kuravas are a wandering set of people who were traditional herbal medicine peddlers and practitioner of occult science.
It is presented at dusk outside the precincts of the temple in the glow of a nilavilakku. In the southern region, it starts with the entry of two women characters called kurathimar (usually men in women’s attire). They represent the wives of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu and stage a mock quarrel, each praising her husband and denouncing the other’s. These verbal exchanges are in amusement for the spectators. The quarrel ends with the entry of a third woman character who makes peace between them.
In some places, another mock quarrel, this time between a married couple, is enacted. Though the enactment lacks the dramatic element, it skilfully exploits subtle techniques and the exposition of different moods like suspected chastity, injured innocence, disappointment and the joy of reconciliation is usually of high refinement.
In the northern region, the performance comes near an operatic drama. There are eight or more characters including the kuravan, kurathy, shopkeeper, the village headsman, etc. The kuravan and kurathy reunite after getting separated at Thrissoor pooram and the theme is their individual experiences during the time of separation. The performance ridicules the habit of drinking alcohol and the practice of untouchability.
This entertaining art form is believed to have been brought by the migratory kuravas from Tamil Nadu.
Chavittunatakam is an art form that has evolved after the turn of the 16th Century along the Kerala coast due to Portuguese influence. With Western Christianity finding a new place to breed, native conversion caused the rise of this operatic drama similar to the miracle play of the West.
The performances consists songs, dialogues and dances similar in tone to the ones in the West Even the stage settings, costumes, curtains , makeup, etc. used in this presentation reveal a western influence.
The performance will be on a specially put up stage inside or outside church premises. The costume and lighting are spectacular and the overall effect is exotic. The dance-steps executed are vigorous, marked by leaps and jumps.
The language of the script is usually Tamil. The play which begins at dusk lasts till dawn.
Genoa, Caralman Charitram, Napoleon Charitram, etc., are some of the themes presented in Chavittunatakam.
This folk art dominated by music is both ritualistic and entertaining, and is prevalent in parts of Trivandrum district. This ancient art form is presented by members belonging to Nadar community above the age of 30. At least five people are needed for its presentation.
At the performance area, the only specification is the material offering kept ready for Ganapathi pooja. Villu (a big bow with a taut bow-string), veesukol, jalar, pot, visari, and dholak are the musical instruments used.
Villadichupattu is usually presented at family temples housing family deities. The songs sung are in praise of that particular deity. It can be presented during day and night. The duration of the performance depends on the story of the presentation.
The performers wear simple dhoti, a cloth around the head and a mark on the forehead with sandalwood paste. For lighting, nilavilakku is used.
This folk art is performed by members of the Mannan community in Malappuram district, usually in Bhagavathy temples from the month of Makaram (January-February) to Medam (April-May).
The performers who play the Pootham will have to undergo a week’s strict observance of austerity before the presentation. The dancers will have to undergo severe physical training. At least three people are needed for the performance. To the rhythm of the thudi, they begin to dance, slowly at first, and later as the tempo rises the dance attains a very fast pace.
The Pootham dancers will wear wooden masks carved out of pala and murukku, two indigenous trees. They will have intricate designs and bright colours.
Thudi is the only instrument used. A performance lasts only 15 minutes and is usually performed during night.
This ritualistic art form is prevalent in some parts of Palghat district and is mainly presented in temples. Mariammapooja is performed by Kumbharanmar (potters) . Twenty-two persons are needed for the performance. This art form is believed to be as old as the community itself.
An effigy of Mariamma (the clan deity) is taken in procession along with a large Kumbham (pot) to the river. After a dip in the river, they come back to the temple dancing all the way, one of them keeping the pot on his head. After arriving at the performance site, which is usually a decorated pandal put up in front of the temple, the kumbham carrier will flagellate himself with a whip. Later, the invocation of the deity, subsequent possession and oracular utterances, similar to that of Velichappadu, take place.
The performance starts in the evening and lasts till daybreak. Naked torches, nilavilakku and nowadays, petromax, provide the lighting.
Chenda, udukku and elathalam are the musical instruments used.
Also known as Pavakoothu (Puppet play) and Nizhalattam (shadow play), this ritualistic and entertaining art-form is prevalent in Palghat and Ponnani taluks. It is traditionally done by some families known as Pulavanmar and is believed to have originated in the 18th century. In a performance, atleadt four persons are needed.
The puppets (pavakal) are small in size and are made out of deer skin, and usually represent at least four characters of Ramayana, the Sanskrit epic. They are arranged behind a long white screen, and behind these puppets are placed bright wick lamps. The shadows of the puppet fall large and clear on the screen.
The singer sings songs from Kamba Ramayanam (a Tamil version of the epic), and the puppets are made dance according to its tune. After each song, an entertaining description of the characters are made. This goes on from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on a stage (Koothumadam) put up at the north of the temple facing south. A white cloth, 24 cubits in length, stretched tight forms the curtain as well as the screen.
This ritualistic art form dominated by dance (nrittam) and presented by upper caste Hindus in North Kerala (Cannanore and Calicut) is believed to be performed according to the tradition set by Bharatha Muni. This is performed inside and outside temple walls and is believed to be around 600 to 700 years old.
The dancer a (Namboodiri Brahmin) will carry a decorated effigy of Devi on his head, which is known as thidampu, and dancers with subtle steps to the rhythm set by chenda. The performance will have several phases starting with urayal, the invoking the deity, and through various other steps compatible with rhythms such as Thakiladi, adantha, Chembada, Panchan, etc.
Besides the dancer, there will be drummers (members of the Marar community), and assistants (Nambeesan, Varier, Unnithiri communities). Among the assistants, seven will play on percussion instruments and two will hold lamps.
The dancer will wear a clean pleated cloth at the lower part and a silk upper cloth. He will wear ornaments like earrings, necklaces, bangles and a decorated turban known as Ushnipeetam.
This is an ancient ritualistic art form earlier connected with agriculture prevalent in parts of Malappuram performed by members of the Kanaka community.
Performers place forms of horses, made with bamboo splints and tender fronts of coconut palm, on their shoulders and sing and dance to the accompaniment of chenda.
The performance normally lasts about 30 minutes and is usually presented in the courtyard of a house. Special stage, lighting and costume are not needed for its performance.
This is a ritualistic art presented as an offering to propitiate Bhadrakali. Paana is prevalent in central Kerala especially in Trichur district. This is staged individually as well as by the community.
Generally, this art performance takes place at a beautifully decorated pandal in the centre of which is a platform supported by decorated pillars. On the top of this Ashtakon Kalam (tantric symbol) is depicted employing five different coloured powders. The characteristic eye-like design seen on the peacock’s tail feathers is depicted all over the kalam. The performance takes place around this kalam.
In certain places, instead of the kalam, temporary shrines are constructed and variously decorated. Then a branch from a ‘Pala’ tree is taken around the shrine by 10 to 12 dancing figures. This dance is accompanied by percussion instruments and the vociferous shouting and chanting of the accompanying crowd. This part of the dance is called Paanapiditham.
Then the branch is installed at the centre of the shrine as the deity and the pooja begins, performed by the village leader. Rituals like Dikpooja (worship of the eight directions) and Thiriyuzhichil (passing of the lam over the body and limbs) are highlighted by the dance movements. Floral accompaniment of dancing around the deity comprises the pooja. Songs are all in praise of Bhadrakali. Individual displays with torches followed by group dancers wielding canes go around the deity one by one.
The end of the performance is marked by Velichappadu Thullal, the dance of the possessed man who becomes a medium for the deity.
For percussion, Para (a certain type of chenda) is used. Paana is presented during night and the total time taken for the performance is two to three hours.
Literally, Aivarkali means the play of the five sets. This was a ritualistic art form performed in almost all important temples of Kerala. Today it is found in central Kerala.
This is also known as Pandavarkali, which means the play of the Pandavas, (the five heroes of Mahabharatha), and is performed by the following communities: Ezhava, Asari, Moosari, Karuvan, Thattan and Kallasari.
This ritualistic dance is performed beneath a decorated pandal with a nilavilakku at its centre.
The performers numbering five or more with their leader called Kaliachan enter the performance area after ritualistic bath, with sandal paste over their foreheads. They will be dressed in white dhoti and will have a towel wrapped around their heads.
The dancers gather around the lamp carrying small sticks with small bells attached at one end (ponthi), and after bowing to their leader and to the traditional lamp, they start the ring dance.
The dance gradually grows vigorous and powerful and is accompanied by varied songs sung by all the dancers led by their leader. Besides ponthi, only elathalam is used for the musical accompaniment. With the singing, the dancing rises to a crescendo of rhythmic fervour and the dancers swish around, feet in step and the sticks striking perfect time.
This ritualistic dance is reminiscent of an ancient legend connected with Mahabharatha, the Sanskrit epic. On hearing that one of her devotees, Karna, had been killed by the Pandavas in battle, Bhadrakali is determined to annihilate them. Lord Krishna who is a Friend of Pandavas, comes to know this and he directs them to sing praises of the Goddess and to propitiate her. The legend has it that Lord Krishna transformed himself into a lamp and prompted his friends to sing and dance in praise of the Devi. The Devi finally becomes pleased and blesses them.
Also known as Mayilpeeli Nrittam, Arjuna Nrittam literally means the “dance of Arjuna”. Arjuna, one of the five heroes of the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharatha, was a renowned singer and dancer, and he was said to have propitiated Bhadrakali by a devotional presentation. Its characteristic costume design includes a garment made of peacock feathers, and hence the name Mayilpeeli Nrittam (Mayilpeeli means peacock feathers.)
This art form is prevalent in the districts of Alleppy and Kottayam. It is said to have been widely prevalent in Bhagavathy temples. This is presented either singly or in pairs. Performances are all-night programmes presented on specially made wooden platforms. Nilavilakku and nowadays electric lamps provide the lighting.
The songs which are strictly rhythm based are called kavithangal. These deal with the various themes of puranas (Hindu scriptures). Each kavithm is composed to suit a specific rhythm out of a repertoire of scores of them, and its rendering is laid down on strict traditional lines. Before each song, the performers explain to the spectators the intricacies of the particular rhythm about to be employed and how its rhythm is translated into dance movements. The various dance movements have close association with kalaripayattu techniques. For musical accompaniment, chenda, maddalam, thalachenda and elathalam are used.
The performers will have green paint applied to the faces with a distinctive sort of headgear. The garment made of peacock feathers is worn around the waist in a similar fashion as the Uduthukettu in Kathakali.
This ancient art form is performed in Wayanad and certain parts of Palghat as a ritualistic ceremony to propitiate Devi, but in Trichur it is also a social entertainment. In Ottappalam, it marks the beginning of the harvest festival.
Kummatti is performed nowadays by Hindu children of all castes, going around from door to door. Eight to ten of them will adorn distinct and peculiar Kummatti grabs made out of grass, dry banana leaves or paper. One of them will be Thallakummatti , the leading character in the dance, music and enactment sessions. This character will wear the mask of a very old woman, hair worn in ancient style. There will be other children along with them wearing masks of the several gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. To announce the coming of Kummatti at the door, there will be characteristic loud shouts preceding their appearance.
They enter the courtyard and their leader Thallakummatti with a baton in hand will start singing and dancing. Others follow suit. For musical accompaniment a small drum and villu (a typical Kerala string instrument made of plinth of Palmyra stem shaped as a bow and with bamboo silver as bow string) are used. Special settings are not needed for the presentation of Kummatti
Also known as Kaduvakali, this is performed in various places including streets during festive season.
Dancers numbering three or more dress themselves up like tigers, usually covered with yellow paint, with red and black paints on it.
There are enactments such as the tiger preying on a goat, and the tiger being hunted by a game-hunter. The made up tigers present vigorous dances to the loud beating of percussion instruments like udukku, thakil, etc.
This art form is now seen only in Trichur and Palghat districts.

This tribal art is performed only by women belonging to the Kadar tribe. This is believed to be as primitive as other tribal arts existing in India.
The performers will form a semicircle at the performance area and get ready for the dance. They hold the lower tips of their dresses and wave accordingly to the various rhythms of the dance.
This simple but elegant tribal dance is characteristically slow. It is performed on festive occasions of the tribes.
This is s tribal art form performed by the Irulars of Attapadi in Palghat district. In this heroic dance, the whole community including women and children participate.
Using primitive drums, the performers enact a mock fight against wild bears. This is believed to have originated following frequent raids of bears on their hamlets.
The dancers executes with rhythmic steps in a smooth flow with vociferous shouts and cries, and keep time to the beating of the drums. The performance constitutes the various stages in the fight against wild bears.
Literally, Karadiyattam means the “ dance of the bear”. This is a tribal ritual art prevalent among the tribes of Attapadi in Palghat district. It is believed to be more than 500 years old .
This dying art form is performed at Malleeswaran temple at Chemmannur in Attapadi on Sivarathri, the festive and auspicious night of Siva that is celebrated every year.
Karadiyattam is presented for propitiating gods and also for appeasing departed souls. About ten to fifteen men and women in ordinary dresses participate in this ring dance.
This takes place at night around a bonfire. The performers sing and dance in well defined steps round and round the leaping flames. Para, thakil and kuzhal are the musical instruments used.

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