Kerala Travel Guide
Folk Dances & Music Theyyam is one
of the most outstanding folk arts of Kerala and has its origin in the
northern parts of the state. Also called Thirayattam, (because every thira
or village performed this ritualistic art at the village temple) this
primitive ritualisic art demands long hours preparation before the
TheTheyyam (a form or shape) represents a
mythological, devine or heroic character. There are over 350 Theyysma in
northen Kerala. The hood, headdress , face painting, Breast plate,
bracelets,garlands and fabric of attire of each of these Theyyams are
distinct and meticulously crafted according to the character presented.
Musical accomaniments are chenda and veekuchenda (drums), elathalam and
Kuzhal(horn). This art form is mostly performed in Bhagavathy temples.
Performances are on between october and May. Thira is the main subdivision
Cherumarkali is a harvest dance in which the
dancers, both men and women move in a swift rhythm, linked in a back lock or
holding arms. The costumes are in striking red and white.
is a spectacular procession of huge, gaudily decorated motifs of bulls
Kalampattu (kalamezhuthu pattu) is another folk
art form that belongs to the northern regions of Kerala. This art form which
is over 600years old is performed by a group of five to fifteen people in
Bhadrakali and Ayyappa temples. The rituals is performed around the kolam
-an elaborate picture, usually of Bhadrakali, drawn on the floor, using five
colours. The performance in the light of temple torches lasts through the
night. The singers are neatly dressed with women wearing their hair on the
side of the head. A series of songs (kalampattu) are sung to the
accompaniment of nanthuni and elathalam.
is the comprehensive system of martial arts if Kerala, regarded as one of
the oldest and most scientific in the world. Kalaripayattu training aims at
the ultimate co-ordination of mind and body. The traditional training in a
Kalari includes specialisation in indigenous medical practices too. Kalaris
are also centres of religious worship.
Kaliyoottu is an
eight day long colourful folk ritual which re-enacts the combat between
goddess Durga and the demon Darika. The ritual is performed in different
stages. The climax of the play- the ritual called paranettu- is performed on
a specially constructed 100 feet high stage on the eight day.
Kanniyarkali (Deshathukali) which is a ritual art and a swift dance
form, performed to the accompaniment of devotional folk songs and the
resounding drum beats is usually performed in Bhagavathy temples.
Kavadiyattam is a ritual dance offering in Subramanya temples.
The group of devotees wearing bright yellow or saffron costumes with ash
smeared all over the body, dance in a frenzy carrying Kavadis on their
shoulders. Kavadis are colourful bow shaped wooden structures rising six to
ten feet high. The ambalakavadi is structured and decorated like a temple.
The Pookavadi has clusters of colourful paper, cloth or plastic flowers
arranged on them. The resounding beats of percussion instruments like udukku
and chenda and the nadaswaram are characteristic of the kavadi procession.
Kettukazhcha is a spectacular pageant of colourfully
decorated effigies of gods and goddesses, and images of animals like the
horse, bull etc.
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.
Kummattikali is a temple
folk art and an awe inspiring mask dance.
kumbhamthullal (pot dance) is a folk ritual dance of devotees carrying
pots on the head.
Kuthiottam is a ritual art exclusive
to the Devi temples of south Kerala. A team of artistes perform this song
and dance ritual. The songs include those in praise of
Durga and other
deities, Padapattu (war songs) and Kalaripattu (martial art songs).
Instrumental accompaniments are mainly percussions, ganjira, bells and
chaplankatta. Faces are painted and red curtains are used as partitions on
Pooram is the great elephant pageant of
certain temples in Kerala. Bejewelled tuskers numbering ten to hundred, line
up for this exotic spectacle with mahouts siting atop them carrying the
muthukuda (tinsel covered silk parasols) and waving the venchamaram (white
tufts). The pageant is accompanied by the panchavadyam which gradually works
up to a crescendo. The most fascinating aspect of the pooram is the
Kudamattom ritual, the ceremonial synchronised changing of the colourful
parasols held aloft the elephants.
Mamangam (the term
today describes any endeavour that is reckless and expensive). This festival
is a replication of the cultural extravaganza held every 12 years by the
zamorins of Malabar 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 Malappuram.
Mayilnritham/Mayilattom is a
ritual art performed by artistes in peacock costume. It is performed in
Subramanya in south Kerala. Oppana is a Muslim bridal group dance.
Padayani (literally, a column of army) is a colourful ritual
art which is symbolic of the victory march of goddess Kali after she
defeated the demon Darika. The elaborate costume of this art form bears
slight resemblance to Theyyam.
Poothamkali (pootham) is
a folk art more commonly performed in the Bhagavathy temples of Malappuram.
Pootham is the character who accompanied Durga in her combat with Darika
asura. The performers, usually three in number, undergo a week of austerity
before the presentation. Colourful and intricately designed masks carved out
of the pala and murukku 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 which is usually rendered at night.
Pulikali also known as kaduvakali is a common sight in
Kerala during festive seasons. Performers painted like tigers in bright
yellow, red and black, dance to the loud beats of percussion instruments
like the udukku and thakil.
Sarpa pattu (sarpam thullal)
or snake dance is a ritual art performed in shrines and temples devoted to
Nagaraja the king of serpents. It is performed by women who belong to the
Pulluvar caste, in a specially decorated pandal, before the sarpakalam
(snake designs on the floor). The women dance in a frenzy to the rhythm of
the sarpa pattu, until they fall down exhausted. The sarpa pattu is
performed to the accompaniment of veena, kudom and kaimani.
is a devotional folk art. The dance is performed on a special platform which
carried around the temple by devotees even as the performance goes on.
Thidampu Nritham which is over 700 years old, is a ritualistic
art form of North Kerala. The dancer moves to the rhythmic beats of the
chenda carrying the thidampu (the idol of the deity) on his head. Seven
artists accompany him on percussion instruments while two others hold aloft
the ritualistic lamps. The artiste wears much jewellery and a decorated
turban known as Ushnipeetam.
Thiruvathirakali is a dance
form which is a pointer to the old customs followed in Nair tharawads (joint
families) where 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).
Thiyyattu is a devotional
offering to Bhadrakali and Sree Ayyappa. This ritual art is performed in a
specially decorated pandal, before the Kalam (five colour design on the
floor), the traditional lamp (nilavilaku), and peetam (stool). The
performance usually starts at dusk. The artists sing and dance to the
rhythmic music of the chenda, elathalam and chengila. The costumes bear
resemblances to Ottanthullal and Kathakali, the distinctive features are
huge jingling anklets and face makeup with tiny white dots.
which is said to have originated in the 18th century is also known as
pavakoothu (puppet play) or nizhalattam (shadow play). This entertainment
art is performed on a special stage called koothumadam in the temple
courtyard. Puppets (pavakal), usually representing four characters from the
Ramayana, are arranged behind a long white screen, in front of bright wick
lamps. The puppets made of deer skin are made to dance to songs from the
Kamba Ramayana (the Tamil version of the epic). The performance starts late
at night and continues up to daybreak.
almost similar to Kolkali and is a folk dance in which artistes tap the
short sticks held in both hands.
Velakali is one of the
most elaborate and spectacular martial folk arts of Kerala. This ritual art
form is usually presented within the temple premises and is called
Thirumumbil vela when performed before the deity and Kulathivela when
performed near the temple pond. 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 with the resounding
rhythm of the thakil, suddha maddlam, elathalam, kuzhal and trumpets. A few
fighting techniques of Kalaripayattu are also displayed in the course of the
Koothambalam: Special hall in the temple
premises for ritual and classical art performances.
Stage specially erected for certain ritual and classical art performances in