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Kerala Art forms
  • Koothu
  • koothuKoothu is a socio-religious art performed in the Koothambalam or the Koothuthara of temples, either independently or as part of Kootiyattam. It is a solo narrative performance interspersed with mime and comic interludes. The Chakkiar dons the role of ' Vidushaka' or the wise jester. Through his inimitable narration of stories from the epics (The Ramayana and The Mahabharatha), the Chakkiar satirises the manners and customs of the time. No one is above the butt of his ridicule. His wit ranges from innocent mockery to veiled innuendoes, barbed pun and pungent invectives. Koothu is intermittently accompanied by the percussion instrument Mizhavu. The Nangyar Koothu is a variation of the Koothu performed by the Nangiars or the female members of the Chakkiar community. This is a solo dance drama mainly centred on the legends of Sree Krishna. Verses are sung and interpreted through mime and dance. The mudras, though the same as in Kootiyattam, are even more elaborate. The art form is still performed in temples like Vadakkumnatha temple at Thrissur, Sri Krishna temple at Ambalappuzha, Koodal Manikyam temple at Irinjalakkuda and Kumaranalloor temple at Kottayam.
  • Margomkali
  • margamkaliThe Syrian Christians of Kottayam and Thrissur districts usually perform Margomkali. A dozen dancers sing and dance around a lighted lamp (Nilavilakku) in the simple traditional white dhoti. The narration is stark without musical accompaniments. The songs date back to a period much before the Portuguese invasion. Nowadays, women perform Margomkali only as a stage item. This is an allegorical enactment with the lamp representing Christ and the performers his disciples. The performance is usually held in two parts and begins with songs and dances narrating the life of St.Thomas, the apostle. It then takes a striking turn with a martial play of artificial swords and shields.
  • Kathakali
  • kathakaliKathakali is one of the greatest art form of Kerala. It is said to have evolved from other performing arts like Kootiyattam, Krishnanattam and Kalarippayattu.Kerala owes its transnational fame to this nearly 300 years old classical dance form which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime. Kathakali explicates ideas and stories from the Indian epics and Puranas. Presented in the temple precincts after dusk falls Kathakali is heralded by the Kelikottu or the beating of drums in accompaniment of the Chengila (gong). The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music, drama and dance is unparallelled in any other art form.
  • Kathakali Make-up
  • kathakalimakeupKathakali relies upon elaborate make up or the Vesham, which are of five types - Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Kari and Minukku. The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partly due to its decor part of which is the kireetam or huge headgear and the kanchukam the over sized jackets, and a long skirt worn over a thick padding of cushions. The identity of the actor is completely mutilated to create a super human being of larger-than-life proportion.
  • Pacha (Green) -Pacha Vehsam or the green make-up portray noble protagonists.
  • Kathi (Knife) - Kathi Vesham portrays villainous characters.
  • Thadi (Beard) - There are three types of bearded or Thadi Veshams.
  • • "Vella Thadi" or White beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman.
    • "Chuvanna Thadi" or Red beard is for evil characters.
    • "Karutha Thadi" or Black beard for the hunter.
  • Kari (Black) - Kari Vesham is used for she-demons.
  • Minukku (Prettying Up) - The "Minukku Vesham" is used for female characters and sages.
  • Mudra - Mudra is a stylized sign language used to depict an idea, a situation or a state of being. A Kathakali actor enacts his ideas through mudras. For this he follows a systematic sign language based on Hastalakshana Deepika, a treatise on the language of hand gestures.
  • Kathakali Music - The orchestra is formed of two varieties of drums - the maddalam and chenda; the chengila which is a bell metal gong and the ilathalam or cymbals.
  • Kathakali Training - Students of Kathakali have to undergo rigorous training replete with oil massages and separate exercises for eyes, lips, cheeks, mouth and neck. Abhinaya or expression is of prime importance as is nritya or dance and geetham or singing. Together with highly evocative facial expressions, the mudras and the music both vocal and instrumental, Kathakali unfolds stories from a bygone era in a lofty style reminiscent of the Greek plays. Kerala Kalamandalam, is the prominent institution imparting Kathakali training in the traditional way.
  • Chavittunatakom
  • chavittunatakomChavittunadakam is a Christian art form of Kerala evolved at the turn of the 16th Century AD during the Portuguese colonization and bears definite traces of the European Christian Miracle Play. It is a musical drama in which the actors wear Greco-Roman costumes and even the stage props bear several foreign influences. In the past, the Chavittunatakom was performed on open stages, though sometimes the interior of a church was also a venue. The language is a colloquial mix of Tamil and Malayalam.
  • Oppana
  • oppanaOppana is a traditional dance form, which is a part of the wedding entertainment and festivities of the Malabar Muslims. Maidens and young female relatives sing and dance around the bride, clapping their hands on the eve of the marriage. The songs of Mappilappattu are first sung by the leader and are repeated by the chorus. The themes are often teasing comments and innuendoes about the bride's anticipated nuptial bliss. Oppana is often presented as a stage item today.
  • Krishnanattom
  • krishnanattomKrishnatotom, another traditional art form is a spectacle for both the scholar and the simple rustic. The visual effect is enhanced by varied and colourful facial make-up with larger-than-life-masks, made of lightwood and cloth padding, for certain characters. The characters who do not wear masks have specific facial colours applied within the frame of a white chutti. The predominant colours used are dark green, flesh tint and deep rose. Most of the characters wear red vests and flowing 'Uthariyams'. The characters of Krishna, Arjuna and Garuda wear dark blue vests. The traditional performance lasts for eight days and covers the whole span of Krishna's life from his birth to 'Swargarohanam' or ascension to the heavens. Orchestral accompaniments are Maddalam, Ilathalam and Chengila. Krishnanattom, though boasting of a unique choreography, assumes more the nature of a Morality Play, seldom presuming to lay claim to the theatrical sophistry so integral to Kathakali and Kootiyattam.
  • Mohiniyattom
  • mohiniyattomThis is a distinctive classical dance form of Kerala with slow, graceful, swaying movements of the body and limbs and highly emotive eye and hand gestures. It is the sinuous dance of the enchantress. The origin of Mohiniyattom is rooted in Hindu mythology. Once the ocean of milk was churned by the gods and demons to extract the elixir of life and immortality. The demons made away with this divine brew. Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the panicky gods and assumed the female form of an amorous celestial dame Mohini. Captivating the demons with her charms, Mohini stole the elixir from them and restored it to the gods. This dance was adopted by the Devadasi or temple dancers, hence also the name 'Dasiattam' which was very popular during the Chera reign from 9th to 12th century.
  • Kakkarissi natakom
  • kakkarissinatakomKakkarissi natakom is a satirical dance-drama based on the puranic legends of Lord Siva and his consort Parvati when they assumed human forms as Kakkalan and Kakkathi - a nomadic tribe of fortunetellers. The legend only serves as a skeletal framework for the play, which often turns into a subtle critique of contemporary society. The language is a blend of Tamil and Malayalam. The chief characters are Kakkalan, Kakkathi, Vetan, Velichappadu, Thampuraan and the ubiquitous Jester. The Dholak, Ganchira, Chenda and the Harmonium provide the background score.
  • Thiruvathirakali
  • thiruvathirakaliThiruvathirakali is a dance performed by women, in order to attain everlasting marital bliss, on Thiruvathira day in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December- January). The dance is a celebration of marital fidelity and the female energy, for this is what brought Kamadeva (the god of love) back to life after he was reduced to ashes by the ire of Lord Siva. The sinuous movements executed by a group of dancers around a nilavilakku, embody 'lasya' or the amorous charm and grace of the feminine. The dance follows a circular, pirouetting pattern accompanied by clapping of the hands and singing. Today, Thiruvathirakali has become a popular dance form for all seasons.
  • Kolkkali
  • kolkaliA folk art mainly of the agrarian classes, Kolkkali is a highly rhythmic dance with the dancers wielding short sticks. A mixed dance in which both men and women participate. The performers move in a circle, striking small sticks and keeping rhythm with special steps. The circle expands and contracts as the dance progress. The accompanying music gradually rises in pitch and the dance reaches its climax . Sometimes it is performed on a specially constructed wooden stage .Thus the name thattinmelkali. The rhythm of this dance is set by a harmonious synchronisation of the tapping of the feet to the striking of sticks. The movement is circular and the artists sing as they dance and strike the sticks in unison. Though the dancers break away to form different patterns, they never miss a beat. In Malabar, Kolkkali is more popular among Muslim men. Kolkkali is also performed by women folk during the Thiruvathira festival.
  • Thullal
  • thullalKunchan Nambiar introduced Thullal, also known as the poor man's kathakali, for the first time in the 18th chentuary. Thullal is a solo performance combining the dance and recitation of stories in verse. Staged during temple festivals, the performer explicates the verses through expressive gestures. The themes are based on mythology. Humour, satire and social criticism are the hallmarks of Thullal. The make up, though simple, is very much akin to that of Kathakali. The Thullal dancer is supported by a singer who repeats the verses and is accompanied by an orchestra of mridangam or thoppi maddalam (percussions) and cymbals. There are three related forms of Thullal - Ottanthullal , Seethankanthullal and Parayanthullal - of which the first is the most popular. The three are distinguished by the costumes worn and the metre of the verses. Thullal is usually performed in the premises of temples during festivals and provides for thought and entertainment to the thousands of people who gather at these events.
  • Duffmuttu
  • duffmuttuDuffmuttu is also known as Aravanamuttu. It is a group performance popular among the Muslims of Malabar. Duffmuttu is staged as a social event during festivals and nuptial ceremonies. The artistes beat on a quaint round percussion instrument called the Duffu, the leader of the group sings the lead, while the others form the chorus and move in circles. The songs are often tributes to martyrs, heroes and saints. Duffmuttu can be performed at any time of the day and has no fixed time limit.
  • Theyyam
  • theyyamTheyyam also known as Kaliyattam, it is a ritual dance popular in north Kerala or the erstwhile Kolathunadu. Theyyam incorporates dance, mime and music and enshrines the rudiments of ancient tribal cultures which attached great importance to the worship of heroes and the spirits of ancestors. Of the over 400 Theyyams performed, the most spectacular ones are those of Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, Wayanadu Kulaveni, Gulikan and Pottan. These are performed in front of shrines, sans stage or curtains, by persons belonging to the Vannan, Malayan and other related castes.'Thudangal' (the beginning) and 'Thottam' (the invocation) are the introductory rituals of the Theyyam or the Thira, as it is known in south Malabar. The headgear and other ornamental decorations are spectacular in sheer size and appearance. Karivalloor, Nileswaram, Kurumathoor, Parassini, Cherukunnu, Ezhom and Kunnathoorpadi in north Malabar are places where Theyyams are performed annually from December to April.
  • Patayani
  • patayaniPatayani is a week- long ritual dance, held in Kaali temples on the banks of the Pamba river during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Medam (March - April). The choice theme of the dancers is the slaying of the demon Daarikan by the goddess Kaali. The steps and movements of the dance vary according to each Kolam or character. Thappu is the major percussion instrument accompanied by a few Chendas. Patayani masks are made with the fresh spathe of arecanut palms. Bhairavi (Bhadrakaali), Yakshi, Pakshi (bird) and Kaalari (Siva) are the main characters. Various communities targetted for criticism are represented by jestures. Kadammanitta, Kadalimangalam and Othara in Pathanamthitta district are famous for annual Patayani performances.
  • Poothanumthirayum
  • poothanumthirayumThis ritual offering to Goddess Kaali is performed in many places of South Malabar. A troupe of dancers dresses up as Kaali (the Thira) and the accompanying spirits (the Poothams) who were created along with the goddess for the destruction of the evil demon, Daarikan. The Thira wear masks while the spirits don semi-circular wooden crowns. The dance is performed from house to house and on the premises of village shrines between November and May every year.
  • Paana
  • paanaPaana or Pallippaana, as it is sometimes called, is a ritual art to propitiate the goddess Bhadrakaali. The art form is popular in the districts of Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram. Paana is part of a three-day festival. A canopy is supported by 64 posts of cut out from the Paala tree (Alstonia scholaris) and adorned with tender palm fronds is erected near the shrine of the goddess. A stump of this tree is ceremonially brought to the site and planted there for the occasion and a non-figurative kalam is drawn in the centre using coloured powders. A ceremonial sword is placed on a red silk cloth under the tree stump to signify the presence of the goddess. At the end of a series of rites, the oracle arrives and moves in a trance around the kalam and the pandal (canopy). The para, a variation of the chenda is the main percussion accompaniment. The dream beats work up to a frenzy to match the steps of the oracle. Performed during the night, the ritual lasts for about three hours.
  • Mudiyettu
  • mudiyettuMudiyettu is a ritual dance performed in some Kaali temples of Ernakulam and Kottayam districts (central Kerala). The dance celebrates the goddess's triumph over the demon Daarikan. Mudiyettu is performed by the Kuruppu or Marar who belong to the temple bound communities of Kerala. The Kalamezhuthu, a ritual drawing of the goddess Kaali is made on the floor with dyed powders, before the performance. Then the chorus sings hymns in praise of the goddess. Before the actual performance, the dancer erases the Kalam with tender palm fronds. The performer in the role of Kaali is aided by 'Koimpata Nayar', the local guide and Kooli, the attendant. Legends say that Daarikan, the epitome of evil, challenged Kaali to a duel. Kaali slayed Daarikan, with the blessings and grace of Lord Siva. The performers of Mudiyettu are all heavily made up and wear gorgeous attire with conventional facial paintings, tall headgears etc, to give a touch of the supernatural. The wooden headgear has a mask of Kaali. An ornamental red vest and a long white cloth around the waist complete the attire.
  • Kannyarkali
  • kannyarkaliKannyarkali, also known as Desathukali, is a folk art exclusively practised by the Nair community of the Palakkad area. It owes its origin to the pursuit of martial arts in this region, which was under constant threat of attack from neighbouring Konganadu. Kannyarkali was born when dance and comedy were pitched in to add vigour and colour to the martial training sessions. The art form combines the agile movements of martial arts with the rhythmic grace of folk dance performed around a nilavilakku.
  • Arjuna nritham
  • arjunanrithamArjuna nritham (the dance of Arjuna) is a ritual art performed by men and is prevalent in the Bhagavathy temples of Kerala. Arjuna, the most valiant of the five heroic brothers - the Pandavas - of the epic Mahabharatha, was also a renowned singer and dancer and is said to have propitiated goddess Bhadrakaali by a devotional presentation. Arjuna nritham is also called Mayilppeeli nritham as the costume includes a characteristic garment made of mayilppeeli (peacock feathers). This garment is worn around the waist in a similar fashion as the uduthukettu of Kathakali . The performers have their faces painted green and wear distinctive headgears. The all night performance of the dance form is usually presented solo or in pairs. The songs which are strictly rhythm based are called Kavithangal and deal with various themes of the Puranas (ancient Hindu scriptures). Each Kavitham is composed to suit a specific rhythm. Before each song the dancers explain the intricacies of the particular rhythm about to be employed and how this rhythm is translated into dance movements. The various dance movements are closely similar to Kalarippayattu techniques. Percussion instruments like the chenda, maddalam, talachenda and ilathalam (cymbal) form the musical accompaniment.
  • Tholppavakkoothu
  • tholpavakoothuTholppavakkoothu, literally meaning 'leather puppet play', is a ritual art performed during the annual festivals in the Kaali temples of Palakkad district. The theme of the play is based on the Kamba Ramayana, narrated in a diction that is a mixture of Malayalam and Tamil dialectical variations. The play covers the whole gamut of events from Lord Sree Rama's birth to his coronation as the King of Ayodhya. The shadow play is presented in the 'Koothumadam', a specially constructed oblong play house on the temple premises. The puppets are fashioned out of the hides of buffaloes and deer, the former for evil characters and latter for noble ones.
  • Velakali
  • velakaliMen in some of the temples of southern Kerala perform this spectacular martial dance. The dancers, clad in the traditional clothes and colourful headgear of the medieval Nair soldiers, engage in vigorous movements and dexterous sword play, to the accompaniment of an orchestra comprising the maddalam, ilathalam, kombu and kuzhal. Velakali originated in Ambalappuzha where Mathoor Panicker, chief of the Chempakasserri army, promoted it to boost the martial spirit of the people. The dance form is a regular feature of the annual festivities at the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna temple in Alappuzha district
  • Kalamezhuthu
  • kalamezhuthuThe kalam is a unique drawing also called dhulee chithram or powder drawing. The artist uses the floor as his canvas. Kalamezhuthu pattu is performed as part of the rituals to worship and propitiate gods like Kaali, Ayyappan or Vettakkorumakan.This ritualistic art is a common feature of temples as well as noble households. The kalams or drawings are erased at the end of the ritual to the accompaniment of musical instruments like ilathalam, veekkan chenda, kuzhal, kombu and chenda. The coloured powders used for the kalam are prepared from natural products only. The pigments are extracted from plants - rice flour (white), charcoal powder (black), turmeric powder (yellow), powdered green leaves (green), and a mixture of turmeric powder and lime (red). It often takes more than two hours to finish a kalam drawing with appealing perfection. Decorations like a canopy of palm fronds, garlands of red hibiscus flowers and thulasi or Ocimum leaves are hung above the kalam. The figures drawn usually have an expression of anger, and other emotions. Kalamezhuthu artists are generally members of communities like the Kurups, Theyyampadi Nambiars, Theeyadi Nambiars and Theeyadi Unnis. The kalams drawn by these people differ in certain characteristics.The Kalamezhuthu is a forty-day ritualistic festival beginning with the first of Vrischikam (Scorpio) in most Bhagavathy temples in Kerala
  • Kummattikkali
  • kummattikkaliKummattikkali is a mask dance popular in some of the northern districts of Kerala. The dancers, wearing painted wooden masks and sporting sprigs of leaves and grass, go dancing from house to house. A popular Kummatti character is Thalla or the witch; the others represent various Hindu gods and goddesses. The songs deal with devotional themes and are accompanied by a bow like instrument called Ona-villu. No formal training is required to perform the Kummattikkali, and often the spectators join in the performance.
  • Kavadiyattom
  • kavadiyattomKavadiyattam, a colourful ritual art, is a votive offering to Sree Subramanya. Basically of Tamil origin, Kavadiyattam is widely prevalent in the Subramanya temples all over Kerala during the festival seasons.Dressed in bright yellow or saffron robes, devotees performing kavadiyattam smear vibhoothi or sacred ash all over their body. Each one carries on his shoulder an ornate Kavadi - a huge bow, richly decorated with peacock feathers, (it is believed that the peacock is the vehicle of Sree Subramanya). Kavadiyattam literally means dance carrying a kavadi. Kavadies are usually of different sizes and shapes, each with its own significance
  • Theeyattu
  • theeyattuTheeyattu is a solo dance-drama performed in front of the Kalam or Dhooli Chitram (ritual drawing with coloured powders). It is enacted in some Bhagavathy temples of Thiruvalla, Kottayam, Thripunithura and neighbouring areas. The ritual starts with the invocation of Lord Ganapathy, Lord Siva and goddess Saraswathy, after which the performer dons a crown smaller but similar to the one used in Mudiyettu. The most popular story narrated through a Theeyattu performance is that of the duel between goddess Kaali and the demon Daarikan. The dance form is usually performed by a small group of temple bound communities called the Unni. Theeyattu is still a ritual offering made every Friday at the Pallippurathu Kaavu temple near Kottayam town
  • Kalaripayattu
  • kalaripayattuKalaripayattu the martial art form of Kerala is reagarded as the oldest and more scientific in the world. Training in combat is given at the kalari (training school). The principles of kalari education stipulate that training in martial art begins with an oil massage of the body, which goes on until the body is agile and supple. Feats like chattom (jumping), ottam (running), marichil (somersault) etc. are then taught, followed by the lessons the use of weapons such as daggers, swords, spears, maces, the bow and arrow and so on. Kalaripayattu training aims at the ultimate co-ordination of the mind and body. The traditional training in a kalari includes specialisation in indigenous medical practice too. Kalaris are also centers of religious worship. The general guidelines to be followed in kalaripayattu demand that once the course is complete, a person should undergo oil massage and engage in the practice of the feats atleast once a year to help him keep in shape.
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