Kerala Art Forms


Kathakali the classical dance form of Kerala,was originated in Kerala 400 years ago. It took shape mainly from Koodiyattam, Mohiniyattom, Chakyarkoothu, Ashtapadyattom and Krishnanattom. A complete art, Kathakali constitute 3 fine arts - abhinayam or acting, nrityam or dancing and geetham or singing, and is a pantomime in which the performing artiste does not sing or speak. So music is a very essential aspect of Kathakali and the bhagavathar or the singer plays a key role in the staging of the art form.

The great poet Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon, the founder of Kerala Kala Mandalam, gave Kathakali the look and feel we see today. Kathakali is usually presented at dusk in the premises of temples, sometimes continuously for ten days, each night featuring an act of the play and lasting till day break. Kathakali music belongs to the Sopana category of music which is typical of Kerala and is characteristically slow, strictly adhering to the tala (rhythm) giving full scope for abhinaya (acting).Instruments used include Chenda, Maddalam and Ilathalam. The actors paint their faces vividly and use different costumes depending on the kind of characters they portray and according to that the "Vesha" (costume) is mainly classified into four: Pacha(Sathwika, the hero), Kathi(the villain), Minukku(for female characters) and Thaadi. Kathakali, especially its verses and music are an enormous contribution to Malayalam literature and music. Aattakkatha, the literature part of Kathakali, forms a separate division in Malayalam literature. Compared to others Kathakali music is more involved and complex clarifying the meanings of mudras or hand gestures, describing the context and expressing the depth of emotions enacted by the artiste.
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This is a form of temple art, found by Kunchan Nambiar. Thullal is classified into three main groups : Ottan, Parayan, Sheethankan.These three differ mainly in the kind of dress. Among the classical performing arts of Kerala, Thullal is distinct for its simplicity of presentation, wit and humour. It follows the classical principles of Natyasasthra (a treatise on art compiled in the 2nd century B.C). Ottanthullal is the most popular among its three varieties. Thullal is a solo performance combining dance and recitation of stories in verse. Staged during temple festivals, the performer explicates the verses through expressive gestures. Themes are based on mythological stories, usually on incidents described in two of the great epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha.

The Thullal dancer is accompanied by a singer who repeats the verses. There are songs called Thullal Pattu with a special rhythm and are laced with wit,satire and social criticism . The orchestra consists of the Mridangam or the Thoppi Maddalam and a pair of cymbals. The actor wears a long tape of white and red coloured clothes looped around the waist-string to form a knee-long skirt. His chest-piece is adorned by various coloured beads, glass and tinsel, and ornaments. The face is painted green, lips, red and the eyes emphasised with black paint. The headgear is colourful and richly decorated.


Thiruvathirakali is a dance typical to Kerala performed by women for everlasting marital bliss, on the Thiruvathira asterism in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December/January).It is observed as an occasion to celebrate womanhood. Only girls and women perform this. They stand in a circle dressed in traditional style and the dance follows a circular pattern accompanied by clapping and singing. There are songs called Thiruvaathirappattu with a special rhythm. Most of these songs praise lords.

The dance is a celebration of marital chastity and female energy, for this is what brought Kamadeva (of Indian mythology) back to life after he was reduced to ashes by the ire of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, one among the Trinity in Indian mythology. The rituals involve chewing of 108 betel leaves along with lime and grated arecanut, undergoing fast and taking a dip in the village pond singing the Thiruvathirappattu. The sinuous movements executed by the dancers during Thiruvathirakali around a nilavilakku embody lasya or the amorous charm and grace of the feminine. Also known as Kaikottikkali it is an important entertainment folk art of Malayalee women during Onam season.


It is predominantly a lasya form of dance notable for its grace. This word means celestial dance.Performed exclusively by women, Mohiniyattam, or the dance of the enchantress Mohini, is another classical artform of Kerala.Traditionally performed in the temple courtyard by the devadasis, the dance form was given its name by Vaishnavites, for whom a favourite story was that of Vishnu disguising himself as Mohini, in order to gull the asuras of their fair share of the amrit churned up from the oceans. Orginally promoted extensively by Raja Swati Tirunal, Mohiniyattam, too, gradually degraded to become nautch. However, it underwent the revival which gave it respectability, with the inspiration and support of Vallathol who founded the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1930.
The modern Mohiniyattam dancer is generally dressed in the unbleached white sari typical of Kerala, with gold jewellery and hair knotted high on the side of the head. She 'sits' with her feet apart and knees bent as she dances, swaying with the grace of a walking elephant, as the classical description says. She dances her love - earthly, but with a divine connotation - for the Lord, Vishnu or in his avatar of Krishna, with slow, graceful, rounded movements that lack the force of Bharata Natyam and the rigidity of Kathak, but are akin to Odissi in their sensuous, flowing dynamics. The basic format of the traditional Mohiniyattam repertoire is similar to that of Bharata Natyam, progressing through Cholkettu, Jathiswaram, Varnam, Padam and Thillana.


This is a form of temple art with songs in Sanskrit.


This is a form of temple art. It's performed in temples of Godesses in Malabar area. Theyyam is rare in South Kerala.



It is an ancient temple artform of Kerala. This is mostly performed in the Bhadrakaali(Goddess Kaali) temples of southern Kerala. Padayani depicts the war between Godess Kaali and Daarika and Daarika Nigraha.