A distinctive feature of life in Kerala is the living presence of a wide variety of art forms. The splendid performances rendered in colourful costumes and to the accompaniment of special music are a significant part of Kerala's culture and heritage. Most of these performances draw their background from religion, mythology, agricultural operations, and incidents of social life like weddings and the charms of the Kerala landscape. Some of the art forms gained popularity when artistes tried to shake up the masses by criticizing social evils.
This is one of the best-known art forms of Kerala and is nearly 300 years old. The classical dance form combines ballet and opera. The dance-drama is said to have evolved from Krishnanattom. It was being performed ever since the 17th century. Elaborate costumes and specific hand gestures are the most important features of Kathakali. There is a different make up for different types of characters. Years of training go into the making of a skilful performer.
This is a kind of musical drama. And it is believed to have had its origin in the Christian community. Evolved during the close of the 16th Century, Chavittunadakom is still a popular item in students' youth festivals. The art form traces its origin to European Miracle Plays.
This is a lively and highly entertaining dance form among the Muslims. The cheerful performance is an essential part of Muslim wedding celebrations and other festivities of the community. Maidens and young female relatives sing and dance around the bride, clapping their hands.
This is an art form that can be enjoyed by both the learned and laymen. Bright costumes, heavy headgears and larger-than-life masks, made of lightwood and cloth-padding form the makeup for Krishnanattom.
A slow graceful dance form characterized by swaying movements of the body and limbs, it also involves highly emotive eye and hand gestures. This has evolved from the dance of the enchantress or dasiyattom of Tamil Nadu.
This is a dance performance exclusively by women. The group dance is performed to attain everlasting marital bliss. It is usually performed on Thiruvathira day in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December- January).
This is also a dance form rendered by women folk. The participants unlock their hair and engage themselves in frantic dancing. This is usually in rhythm with the accompaniments that are played along with the folk songs recited.
Kolkkali and Daffumuttu
Both are highly rhythmic performances popular among the Muslim men of Malabar. The participants of these group performances do not miss a beat.
Kolkkali is also performed by women folk during the Thiruvathira festival.
With the literal translation as "acting together", this is the earliest form of classical drama in Kerala. Most of the performances are based on Sage Bharatha's work, especially 'Natyasasthra'.
Theyyam or Theyyattam is a ritualistic art form of North Kerala. Theyyams are the representations of folk and tribal deities worshipped in various forms. Theyyam is danced to please the Goddess for the well being of the community. Red dominates the elaborate costumes and makeup in this art form. Theyyam stories are sung and danced, dramatized and enacted in various colourful festivals.
Also known as kootthu, this art was earlier performed only by people belonging to the Chakkyaar community. The performance is essentially a narration of stories taken from mythology using elaborate expressions and dance. It is delivered with the accompaniment of cymbals and mizhavu (a special drum) Elaborate facial expressions and hand gestures follow eloquent declarations and recitals.
Kakkarissi nadakom and Ottanthullal(Popularly known as “thullal”) are two famous satirical dance forms. The former is based on legends of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati when they assumed human form as a couple from a nomadic tribe. The latter is a solo performance involving dramatic recitation of stories that once helped point the finger at social evils and the corruptions.
Pamputhullal, and Nagakanni (both connected with the Naga cult), Bhadrakalipattu, Kumbha Nritham, Arjuna Nritham, Kummatti, Padayani, etc are other art forms celebrated in various parts of Kerala at various times of the year.
Ottanthullal was created by the Malayali poet Kunchan Nambiar, as an alternative to the Chakiarkoothu, as a protest against the prevalent socio-political structure and prejudices of the region. In Ottanthullal, a musician stands behind and gives the lead to the actor, another plays the 'Maddalam' or elongated drum and a third keeps the rhythm with a pair of cymbals. The popularity of Ottanthullal continues undiminished even today.
Margamkali is a group dance developed by the Syrian Christians of Kerala, for the propagation of Christianity. The word 'Margam' means path, religion, or creed. The dancers play in a circle around a lighted oil lamp while singing to themselves, without any accompanying instruments. The leader of the troupe or tutor known as 'Asan' leads the song and the group repeats it and dances.