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Bridging Past and Present: Contemporary Art Trends in Kerala

Classical Art Forms

Classical art forms are the ones performed by the set of artists, who take this as their livelihood and devote their whole time to performing these incredible skills. There are many classical art forms in Kerala; everything is a representation of religious norms and depicts morals to the audience. The artists who perform are highly skilled, and some of them belong to a specific community. In earlier days, the rulers appointed a set of dancers, and they flourished under these rulers’ patronage. These sets of dancers are known as devadasis, and this clan performs dance and music for all celebrations. A few of the classical art forms are as follows:


Koodiyattam is a combo of drama and cum music. This is one of the oldest art forms in Kerala. This play is derived from Sanskrit plays, so the background music is sung in a language that is a combination of Sanskrit and Malayalam. The whole piece is driven by the artist, who brings out all the emotions vividly and passionately. The background music score is light and pleasing and tells the story of the poem subtly. The actors are highly skilled, to the extent that every emotional scene brings tears. The costumes and makeup are elaborate and colourful. Abhinaya (expression), angika (body movements), vachika (spoken word), aharya (costume and make-up), and satvika (creation and projection of sentiments and moods) are the major techniques involved in Koodiyattam.


Kathakali is the trademark of Kerala. Kathakali, with its vibrant colors, eye-catching make-up, vivid expressions, elaborate dressing, subtle movements, excellent message, and is a great recreational art in India. More than entertainment, it brings alive all the mythology of India. Through Kathakali, millions of people all over the world come to know the incredible myths of India. This amazing dance form is a combination of drama, dance, and music. The whole dance focuses on the expression of the dancers. The make-up of Kathakali is diverse; it includes thecha vesham (painted make-up), thadi vesham (bearded make-up), kari vesham (black make-up), and minukku vesham (polished make-up). Thecha vesham is again subdivided into pachcha vesham (green make-up), representing morally excellent characters, and kathi vesham (knife make-up), representing evil characters. The actors personify themselves as the mythological characters they are playing and dance with all passion and vigour.

Chakyar koothu

This is an old art form in Kerala. This classical theatre art is performed by a single artist, who expresses his thoughts through mime. The act is both witty and serious. A specific community known as Chakyar has been performing this art since ancient times. Hence, this is known as Chakyar koothu. This art is filled with a lot of wit, innuendo, and satire. The epic and lore of India are always the themes of this drama.

Other important classical art forms are Krishnanattam, Mohiniyattam, Thullal, and many others.

Folk art forms

Folk art forms in Kerala are more vigorous and are performed widely in rural regions. These dances are purely dedicated to God and the Goddess. The performers of these art forms are revered as gods by the people.


The Theyyam dance is distinguished by its pomp, colour, vigour, and loud beats. It is the most unique dance of all, with costumes that can match none. This dance is destined for the northern part of Kerala and, most particularly, the region of Malabar. Theyyam is a sacred dance dedicated to the goddess Kali. It is a mime cum dance where the dancers are possessed by the goddess and dance in a trance. It is a way of reciting stories of the gods and celestial spirits of Kerala through dance. Theyyam is also known as ‘Kaliyattam’ or ‘Thirayattam’. This dance is based on the belief that immortal spirits enter mortal bodies to perform a ritual dance in front of shrines for the well-being of society and the family.


Kalampattu is also known as Kalamezhuthu pattu. This dance is very popular in north Kerala and is performed during temple festivals. This dance is believed to have originated some 600 years ago and is purely dedicated to the goddess Bhadrakali and Lord Ayyappa. About 5 to 15 dancers are involved and dance with full passion around a splendid rangoli (design) drawn before the sanctum. This dance continues the whole night and is a spectacular sight to behold. The nanthuni (stringed instrument) and elathalam are the musical instruments used.

Kavadi Attam

In Kavadi Attam, the main property is the huge bow, richly decorated with peacock feathers, colour ribbons, glass works, and other things depending on the dancer's taste. A small pot of milk will be tied to one end of the wooden bow group of men who are all taking kavadi will gather before the sanctum of Lord Muruga and dance to the beats of Melam like structure (kavadi). The group of men who are all taking Lordadi will gather before the sanctum of Lord Muruga and dance to the beats of Melam. This dance is purely dedicated to lord Muruga.

Other forms of folk dances are Kummattikali, Kuthiyottam, Kolam Thullal, Poothamkali, Sarpapattu Thidampu Nritham, Mayilnrittam, Padayani, Thiyyattu, Chavittunatakam, Pulikkali, Thiruvathirakali, and oppana.

Martial Art Forms

Martial art forms in Kerala are the most powerful and unique skills in India. These skills are practiced by lots of people in Kerala. Even Westerners find these arts very interesting and learn them with passion.


Kalaripayattu focuses on the ultimate coordination of the mind and body. Training for Kalaripayattu includes medical practice, body massage, yoga, and exercise. The person practicing this art should undergo an oil massage and engage in the practice of the feats regularly to maintain their body shape. The first lesson taught in Kalaripayattu is to keep the body agile and flexible. After this, the students are taught feats like chaattom (jumping), ottam (running), and marichil (somersault), followed by fighting using weapons such as daggers, swords, spears, maces, and the bow and arrows. This art follows the pattern of animal characteristics. Depending upon each animal’s fighting or defensive method, each level of fighting in Kalaripayattu is designed.


Velakali is a ritual art. Fifty or more artists in the traditional attire of soldiers, with colourful shields and swords, dance rhythmically to the tune of thakil, suddha manddalam, elathalam, and kuzhal. When this velakali is performed before the sanctum of a deity, it is known as thirummumbilvela, and when it is performed near a temple pond, it is called kulthilvela. There are some Kalaripayattu techniques involved in this dance.


This art form was introduced by the Mappilas of north Kerala as a folk art. It is a game played in the form of a mock fight by boys holding short sticks in one hand and red straw-board shields in the other.