Kerala – The Land Of Art Forms

Famed for the enchanting backwaters, mesmerising hills of Munnar, rich wildlife, exquisite heritage sites, expanses of greenery, the land of coconut trees is a natural wonder which beckons tourists from far and wide. Apart from the natural beauty, the destination is known to captivate visitors to delight in myriad of art forms rooted in ancient tradition. The folk dances, martial arts, paintings, drama, murals in full colours and life, depict the beauty of Kerala – draws mass of art lovers worldwide. Compared to other states of India, Kerala has got more art forms and dances to add to its richness and diversity, and this undoubtedly reflects the significance Keralites show towards these art and dance representations from ages. There are many down the list if to explain and let’s have a look at few.


The martial art form of Kerala, Kalaripayattu is labelled time immemorial and scientific of its kind compared to anywhere around. It is practiced in the central and northern parts of the state commonly, and varies based on geographical locations of the state. The northern style from Malabar, southern style from Travancore and central style from the interior of Kerala are the classifications. Kalari (training school) is the place where training in combat is given. The martial art includes traditional system of self-defence, scientific, cultural and martial elements; kicks, grapping, strikes, weaponry and healing methods. The combat begins by first massaging body with oil, until it becomes flexible and supple followed by feats like somersault, jumping, running in different pace, etc. Weapons used are swords, maces, spears, bow and arrow, daggers, etc. Some traditional dance forms also includes certain acts of Kalaripayattu (example:Kathakali ) and those performers who know these martial arts are regarded on a higher grade than others. Foreigners from far off lands visit Kerala just to master the martial arts and to take these techniques to their places.


The dance-drama of Kerala, especially rooted in the Malabar region combines the features of opera, ballet, pantomime and masque.  The fame of this 300 years old dance form has travelled across nations, bewitching the very cultural and political aspects of Kerala. The cultural dance traces its origin to the Vedic Age and has facets from folk dances, Krishnanattam, Kutiyattam and Kalaripayattu. Also called the “story dance” demonstrates the ideas and stories from myths and other Indian classics. There are basically four abhinayas (acts); Sattvika – thoughts expressed by the strength of mind, Vaacika – speaks out words, dancing, singing, screeching, etc, Aangika – explicates ideas through various gestures and Aharya – dressing and its behaviour. The make-up for this dance-form is looked upon with much significance and each costume implies different meaning. It is not particular that Kathakali should take place in the temple courtyard; it’s usually confined under the star-studded clear sky on a stage for the performance and audience gather around in the darkness.


One of the popular performance art forms performed in temples, in a special auditorium called Koothambalam. This art form is hosted by Chaakyar community and is a refined monologue where the artist recites Hindu epics, Puranas and related stories. The narrator has a peculiar headgear, black long moustache, a large pottu (circular mark) on forehead, face and body covered with turmeric and soot, wears flower earrings, bangles and girdles. The Koothu (dance) combines humour with dance, blending even the social and political issues of the present time.


Theyyam or Theyyaattam or Kaliyattam is a ritual art form performed in northern Kerala, prominent especially in Koluthunadu. The dance is performed by certain lower caste community, the “malayanmar community” and is actually hero or spirit worship of ancestors. People of this area, the North Malabar regard the rituals and Theyyam as god and eagerly waits to receive blessings. Kari Chamundi, WayanaduKulaven, RakthaChamundi, Pottan and Gulikan are some of the mind-blowing Theyyam performances.



DubhMuttu or Duff Kalli is observed by the Malabar Muslim community. The popular performance art is held during festivals, wedding ceremonies or any social occasions. The wooden musical instrument made of animal skin called Thappitta or Duff is used for the entertainment.  The leader of the group starts singing the lead and others sings the chorus, putting steps and moving in circle. The Arabic songs are usually praises to the heroes, saints and martyrs.



The traditional dance form seen among the Syrian Christian community (Knanaya denomination) of Kerala.  Theme is based on the travel trail of Maar Thoma, across India. Maargamkali is carried out by men wearing gold bordered dhotis, turbans and red bands on waist. Nowadays young woman also performs this dance-form decorating themselves with the traditional attire and ornaments. The songs are sung lengthy as well shortened manner. Dancers (around 12 in number) dance around the lamp in a prayerful gesture.

This article is authored by Ajith Thomas who is one of the authors of the blog GreatBackwaters, you can find him at Google+