The Arts of Kerala

RSS Author RSS     Views:N/A
Bookmark and Share          Republish
Kerala, with its rich background of art & culture, has its own art forms
which symbolises the outlook & life of Keralites. From the famous Kathakali,
which is considered as the complete art form as it synthesis all that is
best in the fields of drama, music & dance to the fascinating folk dances,
which are the rhythmic impulses of a sensitive egalitarian society, Kerala's
arts are unique ! The Yogi Bharatha wrote the famous Natya Shastra, the
Science of Dance, in which he postulated that Musicology consists of the
Eternal Triad of Drama, Dance & Music ( Geetham Natyam Thadha Nritham Trayam
Sangeetham Uchyathe ) !

Kathakali - The Dance Drama of Kerala

Acting, dancing & Music - these three arts constitute this dance drama. It
is pantomime in which actors do not sing nor do they speak but interpret
their emotions through highly sensitive medium of appropriate gestures,
picturesque hand-poses and vivid facial expressions, which is intelligible
even to the layman ! Both dramatic & a dance art, Kathakali with
predominance of histrionics, is considered as a complete art. It belongs to
the imaginative form of Art & not the realistic, which is highlighted by
Bharatha in his famous treatise !

This Master Art is Kerala's very own, drawing its themes from the vast
wealth of India's Mythology & folklore. Ramanattom was created as a sort of
rival to Krishnanattom & Kathakali evolved from Ramanattom into a complete
art. It strictly follows the fundamentals & axioms laid down by Bharata, who
was considered to be the father of Indian Classical Dances.

A high degree of control over body & muscle movements and facial expressions
is called for, from the actor's perspective. The performer is helped by
vocal & percussion accompaniments & the theme is expounded by him through
hand gestures known as Hasta Mudras , which are 25 in number. The best way
to appreciate a Kathakali performance is to get the story explained to you
in advance. This amazing evocative art has evolved into a package that
weaves a tantalising spell today, combining chant, drama, dance, makeup,
dress & gesture !

The History of Kathakali

Prior to the genesis of this magnificent Art, there existed in Kerala
different types of dance, drama & dance-dramas. Arts like Chakyarkoothu,
Koodiyattam & different dances associated with the cult of the Mother
Goddess, such as Moodiyattu, Thiyyattom & Theyyattom, the socio-religious &
material dances like the Sastrakali & Ezhamattukali & the latterly evolved
dance-dramas like Krishnanattom & Ramanattom, were flourishing in Kerala
prior to the advent of this Divine Art. You will find that characteristic
features of these dances & dramas had been incorporated & assimilated by
this Master Art
Magnificent archaic costumes, grand head gears and enchanting make ups
characterise this majestic Dance-Drama. It is perhaps the only dance form in
India in which the masculine aspect of the dance is preserved in its
pristine vigour.

All feelings are idealised and facially expressed with intense vividness and
you will find that this compensates for the absence of the spoken word. All
such facial expressions will harmonise and synchronise with the rhythm of
the Dance & the musical melody.

Music is a very important ingredient and the Orchestra is composed of two
vocal musicians, one keeping time with a resounding gong known as Chengala &
the other with a pair of clanking cymbals known as Elethalam, a Chenda
player and a Maddala player. Chenda is a cylindrical drum with a beautifully
sweet sound while the Maddala appears as a big Mridanga.

Amongst the two vocal musicians in Kathakali, the main one is Ponani & the
minor partner is Sinkidi & the Kathakali songs, couched in wealthy poetic
diction have, enriched Malayalam literature.

All the characters of Kathakali are mythological and have different modes of

Adornment & attire are reduced to 5 types. They are

1) Pacha ( Green ) representing Noble & virtuous characters
2) Kathi ( Knife ) Unrighteous characters
3) Thadi ( Beard ) Demoniac characters
4) Kari ( Black ) Agressors
5) Minukku ( Polished ) Spiritually inclined characters

While the ornamentation & costumes are elaborate, the large overcoats, the
bulging skirts, the antique ornaments - all create a tremendous impression
on the viewer, while the facial expressions of the actors along with the
celestial music behind create a Virtual Reality or Life out of India's
massive mythological literature !


This is the most comprehensive system of Martial Arts, considered as the
most ancient & most scientific in the world. Aiming at the ultimate
coordination of body & mind, training in Kalari includes knowledge of
indigenous medicine also. Kalaris are also centers of Worship.


The most distinguished amongst the Thullal arts, Ottam Thullal was
ingeniously devised by a master artist, Kunjan Nambiar. It is written that
he was humiliated by a Chakyar, as Nambiar dozed off during a performance.
In order to take revenge on his humiliation he wrote a poem depicting an
episode from the epic Mahabharata in a never-to-fore metric & pattern
rhythmic. A special kind of dance for its exposition was formulated. By
innovative methods, humor and the enjoyableness of the programme, he
attracted all audiences that had surrounded Chakyar. A new art was born and
this was christened as "Ottam Thullal ".
The costumes & crown are copied from Kathakali, with variations. It is a
solo dance with the artiste singing verses to the accompaniment of Mridanga
with a refrain repeater singing behind. Duration of the programme is a
couple of hours.


With the dancer wearing special dress & head gears, Theyyam is a form of
spiritual dance performed in temples of the Mother Goddess in North Malabar.
Songs and musical instruments accompany Theyyam.


This is the oldest amongst the classical theatre arts and the solo dance is
usually presented in Temples, to the accompaniment of Elathalam & Mizhavu.
Beginning with an Invocation the Deity of the Temple, its narration is
enlivened by the Thandava dance movements, facial expression & gestures
according to the principles of Natya Shastra. Humour is abound in plentitude
in this art and its themes are taken from India's Epic Poetry ( Ramayana &
Mahabharatha ).

Miss Dhanya of Zodiac Computers in Mohiniyattyam attire
The dynamism & vigour of Kathakali is integrated with the grace of Bharata
Natyam in this beautiful, attractive Art. This dance is performed in
connection with festivals in the Temple. The white cloth ( mundu ) is the
costume & hair is gathered up & put up at the side of the head, Kerala
style, & adorned with jasmine.


Dressed in the traditional style of Kerala, women & girls stand in a circle
round a lighted Lamp ( Nilavilakku ) and they sing and dance around the
Lamp. This is normally performed on the Vedic constellation day of
Thiruvathira ( when the Moon is in the constellation of Aridra ). Songs
praise the deities of the Vedic pantheon.


Devotees of the Commander-in-Chief of the celestials, Lord Muruga, wearing
bright yellow or saffron costumes with ash smeared all over the body, dance
in a frenzy carrying Kavadis on their shoulders. Kavadis are wooden
structures that rise 6 to 10 feet. Ambalakavadi is shaped like a temple &
Pookavadi has clusters of plastic flowers arranged on them.


"Acting together " - this is the meaning of this Art and this Art is enacted
inside the theatre of the Vedic Temple. There are always 2 or more
characters onstage simultaneously, with Chakiars providing the male cast &
Nangiars donning the female robes.

A martial dance, Velakali originated in Alleppey. It was initiated by
Mathoor Panicker, the Chief of the Chempakasseri Army, who promoted it with
the noble intention of boosting the martial spirit of the people. Clad in
the colorful headgear & the traditional clothes of the Nair soldiers, the
dancers engage in dextrous swordplay and vigourous movements to the
accompaniment of the Orchestra.


This solo dance drama is normally performed in front of Dhooli Chitram or
ritual drawing with colored powders in the Temples of the Mother Goddess.
Lord Ganapthi is invoked initially, after which the performer dons a Crown
similar to the one used in Mudiyettu. It depicts the grand Duel between
Goddess Kali & the demon Darika, the negative and the positive elements in


A mask dance popular in North Kerala. The dancers go dancing from house to
house. The major Kummatti character is Thalla or Witch while others
represent the various deities of the Vedic pantheon. Songs are basically
devotional & are normally accompanied by a bow like instrument called
Ona-villu. Spectators generally join in the performance as no training is
required in this Art.

Article by G Kumar, astrologer, academician & programmer. He has created
Astro Softwares at
. He believes that Knowledge is the criterion for Success and his ebooks are
available at
and he recommends digital products for Knowledge at

Report this article
This article is free for republishing

Bookmark and Share

Ask a Question about this Article