visual effects and stunning music
are hallmarks of Kerala's performing
arts. In a land which cannot boast
of monumental architectural feats,
unlike many other parts of India,
the performing arts, both individually
and collectively, make up for
the lost magnificence. No other
State in India can match the grandeur
and creativity of Kerala's performing
arts. The classical and ritual
arts of Kerala have always enjoyed
a rich patronage, from the former
kings who ruled the state to the
latter day democratic governments.
and ritual arts of Kerala
is a harvest dance in which dancers,
both men and women, move in a
swift rhythm, linking arms and
donning red and white costumes.
This is a folk art, noted for
the procession of huge, colorfully
decorated images of bulls.
also known as Koothu, is one of the oldest
classical theatre arts of Kerala. This
is a solo dance performing at the koothambalams
of temples with instruments like mizhavu
and elathalam. Koothambalams are special
stages set apart in temple compounds for
the performance of temple art-forms. The
performance begins with an invocation
to the presiding deity of the temple.
The narration is enlivened with the thandava
dance movements, gestures and facial expressions
developed according to the rules of the
Natya Sastra. Koothu is noted the way
the artist takes digs at current events
and personalities, adding to its dramatic
character. Any theme can be presented
under this art. The costume is colourful,
bordering on the bizarre, with a strange
also called Kalamezhuthu pattu, is an
ancient folk-artform of northern Kerala.
This 600 years old artform is performed
by a group five to fifteen people in Bhadrakali
and Ayyappa temples. The ritual is performed
around a kolam - an elaborate picture,
usually of goddess Bhadrakali, drawn on
the floor with five colors, and under
the light of blazing torches. The singers
are neatly dressed, the women wearing
their hair on the side of the head. A
series of special songs, kalampattu, are
sung to the accompaniment of nanthuni
and elathalam, two traditional musical
An eight day long colorful folk ritual
which re-enacts the mythical combat
between goddess Durga and the demon
Darika. This folk ritual has various
stages. On the last and eight day, a
ritual called Paranettu - is performed
on a specially designed 100 feet high
stage on which both the actors work
themselves to a frenzy for the climactic
A ritual art form with swift dance performed
to the accompaniment of devotional folk
songs and resounding beats of drum.
Usually performed in Bhagavathy temples.
A ritualistic dance in Subramanya temples.
The devotees wear colorful dresses.
Kavadis are colorful bow-shaped wooden
structures from six to ten feet tall,
carried on their heads by the dancers.
The Ambalakavadi is looks like and is
decorated like a temple. The Pookavadi
has stuck to it bunches of colorful
paper, cloth or plastic flowers. The
resounding beats of percussion instruments
like udukku and chenda and that renowned
wind instrument of south India, the
nagaswaram, characterise the a kavadi
A group dance of the farming communities
in Kerala. Twelve to twenty four dancers
move rhythmically in a circle around
the ceremonial lamp, tapping together
the two-feet long wooden sticks that
A ritual dance in honor of one of the
most famous gods of the Hindu pantheon,
Sree Krishna. This group performance,
based on the Sanskrit text Krishna Geetha,
spans over eight nights. A dance with
great importance for movements. The
costume and makeup of Krishnanattam
bear traces of resemblance to Kathakali
and folk arts like Thiyattam, Mudiyettu
and Theyyam. Musical instruments like
maddalam, elathalam and chengila lend
flavor to the performance. Krishnanattam
is an important dance performed in the
It is a temple art, also known as the
/ Kumbhamthullal: Folk ritual
dance of devotees of Lord Krishna, who
carry pots on the head.
A ritual exclusive to Devi temples of
South Kerala. A group dance with songs
including those in praise of goddess Durga
and other deities, padapattu or war songs
and kalaripattu or martial songs. Instruments
used are mainly percussions, ganjira,
bells and chaplankatta. Faces decorated
with paints and red curtains are used
as partitions on the stage, to enhance
the frightening effect.
This huge and wonderful festival is a
replication of the cultural extravaganza
that used to be held every 12 years by
the Zamorins (ancient rulers of Kozhikode)
in the middle ages. Royal families, principalities
and chieftains from all over Kerala used
to participate in this great cultural
event which was held on the grounds of
the Thirunavaya Navamukunda Temple at
Ponnani in the present day Malappuram
This beautiful dance is usually
performed on specially put up stages
in connection with temple festivals.
The costume is the traditional white
mundu and melmundu of Kerala. The
hair is gathered and put up at the
side of the head and adorned with
/ Mayilattom: Peacock dance
A Muslim bridal group dance performed
the day before the wedding day.
This colorful ritual art is symbolic
of the victory march of goddess Kali
after she defeated the demon Darika.
The art form has some resemblance to
This art form is very similar to Koothu
on gestures and movements, but the narration
is through prose and song sequences. The
costume is predominantly red - a red head
dress and a red silk wrist band. The performer
also wears heavy garlands around the neck
and thick lines of sandal paste smeared
across the forehead. Patakam is also performed
outside the temples.
A folk art commonly performed in the Bhagavathy
temples of Malappuram. Pootham is the
character who accompanied Durga in her
combat with Darika. The performers, usually
three in number, undergo a week of austerities
before the presentation. Colourful and
intricately designed face masks carved
out of the pala and murikku trees are
the highlights of the attire. The fifteen
minute performance starts slowly and works
up to a frenzy towards the end. The thudi
provides rhythm to the dance, performed
Also known as Kaduvakali, it is a traditional
art form in Kerala during festive seasons.
Performers paint their bodies in bright
yellow, red and black spots and lines
to resemble tigers, and dance to the loud
beats of percussion instruments like udukku
and thakil. It is a common art form during
Pattu: This snake dance is performing
to satisfy the snake gods.
A devotional dance performed on a special
platform carried around the temple by
devotees, even as the performance goes
The most outstanding of the folk arts
of Kerala, especially in the northern
regions. Also called Thirayattam, (because
every thira or village performed this
ritualistic art at the village temple).
This primitive ritualistic art demands
long hours of preparation. The Theyyam
or Kolam, represents a mythological, divine
or heroic character. There are over 350
Theyyams in northern Kerala. The hood,
headdress, face painting, breast plate,
bracelets, garlands and fabric of attire
of each of these kolams are distinct and
meticulously crafted according to the
character presented. The instruments used
are chenda and veekuchenda (drums), elathalam
and kuzhal (horn). This art form is mostly
performed in Bhagavathy temples. Performances
are carried out between October and May.
Thira is the major subdivision of Theyyam.
700 years old ritualistic art form of
north Kerala. The dancer moves to the
rhythmic beats of the chenda carrying
the thidampu on his head. Seven artists
accompany him on percussion instruments
while two others hold aloft the ritualistic
lamps. The artists wear lots of jewellery
and a decorated turban known as Ushnipeetam.
A devotional offering to Bhadrakali and
Sree Ayyappa. The performance usually
starts at dusk. The artists sing and dance
to the rhythmic music of the chenda, elathalam
This art originated in the 18th century.
Also known as pavakoothu (puppet play)
or nizhalattam (shadow play). An art of
entertainment, is performed on the special
stage called koothumadam in the temple
courtyard. Puppets (pavakal) made of deer
skin, usually representing four characters
from the Ramayana, are arranged behind
a long white screen, in front of bright
wick lamps. The puppets are made to dance
to songs from the Kamba Ramayana (the
Tamil version of the epic). The performance
starts late at night and extends till
Another version of Koothu and is characterised
by simplicity of presentation, wit and
humour. The inventor of this art form
is Kunjan Nambiar. The dancer himself
sings the lead to the accompaniment of
the maddalam and elethalam. The three
forms of Thullal are - Ottanthullal, Seethankanthullal
and Parayanthullal. Very colorful costumes.
Resembling Kolkali, a folk dance performed
holding short sticks in both hands.
A most elaborate and spectacular martial
folk arts of Kerala.. Fifty or more performers
in the traditional attire of soldiers,
bearing colourful shields and swords or
long canes, dance with war like steps
in perfect orchestration to the resounding
beats of the thakil, suddha maddalam,
elathalam, kuzhal and trumpets. A few
fighting techniques of Kalaripayattu are
also displayed in the course of the performance.
Specially decorated hall in the temple
premises meant for ritual and art performances
A stage specially erected for certain
ritual and art performances in the temple.
Music systems prevailing in the state
/ Pandimelam: The traditional
temple percussion music accompanying almost
all art forms.
The traditional temple music accompanying
processions and pageants. The five instruments
are chenda; kuzhal; edakka; elathalam,
Rituals in the State
A ritual dance of devotees carrying holy
pots on the head as offering to the goddess.
Usually performed in Bhagavathy temples.
A ritual connected with the end of a festival.
The idols of deities are carried in procession
to the river, where they are bathed. The
purified idols are then escorted back
to the temple in procession accompanied
by caparisoned elephants, panchavadyam,
nadaswaram and chendamelam.
Ritual offering of coins in earthen pots,
in Muslim shrines . The pots are smeared
with sandal paste, mouths covered with
white cloth, with a garland around the
neck and three incense sticks stuck into
the cloth covering.
Thousands of oil lamps fixed on the outer
walls of the temple are lighted.
Ceremonial procession of the
idols of a temple. The procession usually
comprises various cultural art forms,
traditional temple music and elephant
pageants. Kodiyettam is the ceremonious
flag hoisting ceremony denoting the beginning
of the festival or festive season in a
temple, church or mosque.
Symbolic of Lord Vishnu hunting down the
demon of evil in a forest. The colourful
procession attracts devotees in large
A ritual performed in many Hindu homes
as part of a festival. The Para (wooden/
brass measure) heaped with paddy is arranged
in front of the house along with lighted
lamp and other offerings like fruit, jaggery
and so on. The offering is collected by
a procession of elephants carrying the
thidampu (idol of the deity of the temple).
This ritual offering to Goddess Bhagavathy,
is a preparation of rice, jaggery, coconut
and plantains cooked together in the
A ceremonial procession which denotes
the conclusion of the morning and evening
pooja (devotional rites) in certain
A ceremonial procession, around the
temple, of maidens or women in traditional
attire holding the thalam in their hands.
The thalam (usually a silver or brass
plate) contains rice, flowers and a
lighted lamp - all of which symbolize
/ Komaram: The oracle of a
temple usually dressed in red and carrying
a sword and shield. Possessed by the
spirit of the deity this ritual character
dances in a frenzy at times of festivals
and other special occassions in devi
Special hall in the temple premises
for ritual and art performances.
Stage specially erected for
certain ritual and art performances
in the temple.
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