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Artforms in Kerala

Classical Art Forms

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


Koodiyattom, is a combo of drama 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 which is a combination of Sanskrit and Malayalam. The whole paly 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 paly in a subtle way.  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 Koodiyattom.


Kathakali is the trademark of Kerala. The vibrant colors, eye catching make up, vivid expressions, elaborate dressing, subtle movements, excellent message and what not, Kathakali is a great recreational art in India. More that 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 dace form is a combination of drama, dance and music. The whole dance focuses on the expression of the dancers. 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 sub-divided into pach vesham (gree 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 vigor.


This is an old art form of 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, had been performing this art from ancestors time. Hence so this is known as Chakyarkoothu. This art is filled with lot of wit, innuendo and satire. Epic and lore of India is always the theme of this drama.

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

Folk Art Forms

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


Theyyam dance is distinguished by its pomp, colour, vigor, and loud beats. It is the most unique dance of all, with costumes that can match none. This dance is destined to the North part of Kerala and most particularly to the region of Malabar. Theyyam is a sacred dance dedicated to goddess Kali. It is a mime cum dance, where the dancers are possessed by the Goddess and they 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 into mortal bodies to perform a ritual dance in front of the shrines for the well-being of the society and the family.


Kalampattu is also known as Kalamezhuthupattu. This dance is very popular in north Kerala and is performed during temple festivals. This dance is believed to be originated some 600 years back and is purely dedicated to 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.


In Kavadi Attam the main property is the huge bow, richly decorated with peacock feathers, color ribbons, glass works and other things depending on the dancers taste. A small pot of milk will be tied to one end of the wooden bow like structure (kavadi). The group of men who are all taking kavadi 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, Thattumelkoothu, Pootamkali, SarpapattuThidampu Nritham, Mayilnrittam, Padayani, Thiyyattu, Chavittunatakam, Pulikkali, Thiruvathirakali, and oppana.

Martial Art Forms

Martial art forms of 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 co-ordination of the mind and body. Training for Kalaripayattu includes medical practice, body massage, yoga, and exercise. The one practicing this art should undergo oil massage and engage in the practice of the feats regularly maintain the body shapes. The first lesson taught in kalaripayyatu 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 the fighting using weapons such as daggers, swords, spears, maces, and the bow and arrow. This art follows the pattern of animal characteristic. 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 performed before the sanctum of a deity, it is known as thirummumbilvela and when is performed near a temple pond it is called kulthilvela. There are some of the Kalaripayattu techniques involved in this dance.


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