Kerala Arts and Culture
Kerala is known as “Gods own Country”. Besides the physical beauty, Kerala has a rich cultural heritage, which fascinates the tourists a lot. The art and culture of Kerala portrays various dance forms and martial arts performed with the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music. All these art forms are performed during some celebration or festivity. Perhaps Kerala is the only state in India that has such myriad forms of performing arts that are grand spectacle of colors and costumes. Kathakali, the pride of Kerala, is an art form where music, dance and drama are incredibly synchronized. Mohiniyattom, Ottanthullal, Koodiyattam, Chakiarkoothu, Pathakam and Chavittunatakam, though lesser known to the outside world are equally important art forms of Kerala.
Some other folk art forms include
THEYYAM 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 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.
POOTHANUMTHIRAYU is a ritual offering to Goddess Kaali is performed in many places of South Malabar. A troupe of dancers dress 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 / PALLIPPAANA
PAANA / 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 and adorned with tender palm fronds is erected near the shrine of the oddess. 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
KALAMPATTU / KALAMEZHUTHU PATTU
KALAMPATTU / KALAMEZHUTHU PATTU is a folk art form that is practiced in the northern parts of Kerala. More than 600 years old art form, it is performed by a group of five to fifteen people in the Bhadrakali and Ayyappa temples. The ritual is performed around the Kollam, which is an elaborate picture usually of Bhadrakali drawn on the floor with the use five colors. The dance is performed in the light of temple torches continue all through the night. A series of songs or kalampattu are sung to the accompaniment of nanthuni and elathalams.
KALIYOOTTU is an eight daylong folk ritual, which depicts the combat between goddess Durga and the demon Darika. The ritual is performed at various stages and the climax of the play is called Paranettu. This ritual is performed on a specially constructed 100 feet high stage on the eighth day.
KALARIPAYATTU is the complete system of martial arts of Kerala. It is considered as one of the oldest and most scientific martial arts in the world. The training of Kalaripayattu aims at the perfect co-ordination of body and mind and the traditional training in a Kalari include specialization in the indigenous medical practices too. Kalaris are also centers of religious worship.
VELAKALI is one of the most detailed and dramatic martial folk arts of Kerala and is usually performed within the temple premises. It is called thirumumbil vela when performed before the deity and kulathilvela when performed near the temple pond. Fifty or more performers dressed in the traditional attire of soldiers, bearing colorful shields and swords or long canes, dance in war like rhythm in perfect beat of the thakil, suddha maddalam, elathalam, kuzhal and trumpets. A few fighting techniques of Kalaripayattu are also presented in the course of the performance.
KAVADIYATTAM is a ritualistic dance form performed by a group of devotees wearing bright yellow or saffron costumes with ash smeared all over the body. The dance depicts Kavads carrying kavadis on their shoulders. The beats of instruments like udukku and chenda and the nadaswaram are integral part of the kavadi procession. It is usually performed in the Subramanya temples.
MUDIYETTU 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 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. Performed during March-April in temples as well as in places called the ‘ Thara‘, a venue for informal gatherings, this art form is accompanied by devotional folk songs and the loud beat of percussion instruments. The orchestra includes ilathalam or cymbal and percussion instruments like chenda, maddalam, edakka and udukku. A team of Kannyarkali dancers varies from six to twenty in number and a performances usually lasts for four days. Each day’s performance is known by a different name: Iravakali, Anadikoothu, Vallon and Malama. The last day’s performance is presented by hill tribes, in which women also participate.
ARJUNA 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 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. Each puppet is of an average height of 80 cms and is cut out in different postures. The puppets are arranged behind a long white curtain stretched across the Koothumadom. Behind this, on a split bamboo pole, is placed a row of wick lamps burning inside coconut halves. The light from these lamps cast the silhouettes of the puppets on the curtain. The chief puppeteer is known as ‘Pulavan‘. At present this ritual art is confined to Ottapalam and Kavalappara in Palakkad district.
THIRUVATHIRAKALI is a classical dance form, which is a pointer to the old customs followed in the nair tharawads (joint families). In this dance form, the women of the house dance elegantly around the ceremonial lamp or floral decoration on festive occasions to the accompaniment of the thiruvathira pattu (song).
MARGOMKALI is a ritual folk art of the Syrian Christians of Kottayam and Thrissur districts. A dozen dancers sing and dance around a lighted wick lamp ( Nilavilakku), clad in the simple traditional white dhoti and sporting a peacock feather on the turban to add a touch of colour. 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. The narration is stark without musical accompaniments. The songs date back to a period much before the Portuguese invasion. Today, Margomkali is only performed as a stage item by women.
THEEYAATTU 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
KUMMATTIKKALI 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.
KOLKALI is a group dance form of the farming community in kerala. Twelve to twenty four dancers move rhythmically in a circle around the ceremonial lamp, tapping the two feet long wooden sticks held in their hands.
Classical art forms of kerala :
KATHAKAKLI is the classical dance drama of Kerala based on the guidelines laid in the Natya Sastra. This elaborate art form is usually begins in the evenings and continues till dawn. It is an inherent part of all temple and cultural festivals in Kerala. The costumes and makeup are ornamental, colorful and elaborate so that the gestures and expressions of the performer are easily seen and understood. The performers do not speak or sing but enact the story through hand gestures, graceful body movements and facial expressions especially of the eyes. The themes of this dance form are from rich and vibrant mythology of Indian culture. Music is an essential feature of Kathakali and two vocalists are there who sing to the beats of a chengila (gong), elathalam (small cymbals), chenda and maddalam.
CHARKYARKOOTHU is also called koothu, is one of the oldest classical theatre arts of Kerala. It is a solo dance is usually performed in the koothambalam of temples to the accompaniment of the mizhavu and elathalam. The performance starts with the invocation of the presiding deity of the temple. The narration of the story, generally picked from the Epics, is portrayed with the thandava dance movements, gestures and facial expression according to the guidelines given in the Natya Sastra. Koothu is marked for the presence of comic element, which adds to its dramatic character. The costume worn during the performance is colorful and unconventional with an unusual headgear.
BHARATA NATYAM is the oldest form of classical dance in India. Origin of this style of dance can be traced to the Natya Sastra written around 4000 BC by sage Bharatha. Known as the ‘Poetry in Motion’, this dance form was originally known as ‘dasi attam,’ a temple dance performed by young women called ‘devadasis.’ Bharata Natyam is most commonly performed by women rarely by men. Strict guidelines are laid down describing every single aspect of the dance form including the attributes required to be an accomplished dancer.
MOHINIYATTAM is a classical solo dance style, which is a blend of the grace and elegance of Bharata Natyam with the strength and force of Kathakali to build a mood of sringara or romance. The dance is usually performed on specially made stages during the temple festivals. The costume for the dance is the traditional white mundu and melmundu of Kerala and with the hairs gathered up at one side of the head and adorned with jasmine flowers in the traditional style.