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Kerala Arts

Kerala, the God's own country is blessed with various art forms. The various art forms of Kerala are Classical Arts, Folk Arts, Martial Arts, Fine Arts and Temple Music.

Classical Arts of Kerala
The classical arts of Kerala dates back to thousand of years. Some of the classical arts of Kerala are Kathakali, Chakyarkoothu, Koodiyattam, Mohiniyattam, Krishnanattam, Patakam and Thullal.

Kathakali

Kathakali is the popular art form of Kerala. Kathakali literally means the story play. This spectacular classical dance drama of Kerala is based on the guidelines laid by the Natya Sastra, the ancient treaty on dance and drama. This classical dance is usually performed in the evenings and cultural festivals in Kerala. This dance is also referred as the first theatre of imagination of the world due to its elaborate and ornamental costumes, ornaments and facial make-up. In this dance, the actors do not speak or sing but enact the story through mudras (hand gestures), graceful movements and facial expressions. The themes of the dance are taken from the colourful and rich mythology of India. Music is an essential part of the Kathakali dance, where two vocalists sings to the accompaniment of a chengila (gong), elathalam (small cymbals), chenda and maddalam. 

Kathakali Dance, Kerala

Krishnanattam
The Krishnanattam dance originated as a votive offering to Sree Krishna. This dance is performed in groups and based on the Krishna Geetha, the Sanskrit text. This dance is presented for eight nights. The charm of this classical dance can be seen in the synchronized graceful movements of the entire group. The costume and makeup of Krishnattam resembles to Kathakali and folk arts like Thiyattam, Mudiayettu and Theyyam. The musical instruments which are used in this dance are maddalam, elathalam and chengila. Krishnattam is most commonly performed in the Guruvayoor temple.

 

Mohiniyattam
Mohiniyattam is another classical dance of Kerala. This dance of the enchantress combines the graceful elegance of Bharatanatyam and the vigour and dynamism of Kathakali, to create a mood that is predominantly sringara (erotic). The dance is usually performed on specially put up stages in connection with temple festivals. The costume is the traditional white mundu and melmundu of Kerala. The hair is gathered and put up at the side of the head and adorned with jasmine, in the traditional style. Mohiniyattom reflects the graceful nature of the land. The movements of the dancer can be compared to the palms swaying in the gentle breeze and the sweeping waves which are a part of Kerala’s lush landscape.

Mohiniyattam Dance

 

Chakyarkoothu
Chakyarkoothu also known as Koothu, is one of the oldest classical theatre arts of Kerala. The solo dance is usually presented in the Koothambalam of temples with the mizhavu and elathalam. The performance begins with an invocation to the presiding deity of the temple. The narration is accompanied with the thandava dance movements, gestures and facial expressions according to the guidelines in Natya Sastra. Koothu is mainly known for its comic element which is added to its dramatic character. The themes are taken from the epics. The costume is colourful and bizarre with a strange headgear.

Patakam

Patakam literally means dissertation. Patakam is similar to Koothu in technical content, gestures and movements. The narration is made through prose and song sequences. The dancers wear the red colour costume like the red head dress and a red silk wrist band. The performer also wears heavy garlands around the forehead. Patakam is performed outside the temples.

Koodiyattam

Koodiyattam that literally means dancing together is one of the oldest dance drama in India. This dance drama is associated with temple rituals and was recently selected by UNESCO as one among the ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. This dance is based on the Sanskrit text and is performed from a few days to few weeks. The Koothambalam is elaborately decorated with plantain trees, bunches of

Kerala Dances

tender coconut and fronds of coconut leaves. But, the stage is very simple. Koodiyattam is performed in different stages which begins with the opening beat of a drum, the invocation (vandana slokam), the purification ceremony, an interlude of orchestra and the actual recital. The makeup patterns and costumes of Koodiyattam are believed to be the forerunners of the costumes in Kathakali.

 

Thullal
Thullal is a modification of the Koothu and characterized by simplicity of presentation, wit and humour. Thullal, another classical art form of dance keeps the audience in a constant state of merriment. This dance form was originated by Kunjan Nambiar, one of the leading poets of Malayalam. The solo performance is marked by fast and rhythmic movements. The dancer himself sings the lead to the accompaniment of the maddalam and elathalam. Ottanthullal, Seethanganthullal and Parayanthullal are the three different types of Thullal based on the metre and rhythm of the songs and difference in their costume and dance. In this dance also, the dancers wear colourful costumes, with elaborate headgears and paintings on the face. This dance is usually presented during temple festivals.

 

Folk Arts of Kerala
Kerala has a rich repertoire of folk performing arts, folk songs and folk drama reflecting man's overpowering rapport with nature and his constant desire for communication with the unknown. The tribal people of Kerala keep alive a folklore tradition in the eco-friendly life they lead and the natural pharmacy they practice. Theyyam, Thira, Mudiyettu, Kaduvakali, Velakali, Kakkarissi Natakom, Chavittunatakam, Margamkali, Kolkali, Parichamuttukali, Bhadrakalipattu, Pulluvanpattu, Thiruvathirakali are few of the Kerala's folk art forms, some of them being ritual arts. Theyyam exists in four hundred different forms. The brilliantly painted masks worn by the artists of Theyyam, Padayani are fine examples of the crafts of the Kerala. The masks and headgear of Theyyam symbolize the social consciousness and a sense of morality. The best time to enjoy the performing arts of Kerala is during January and February, the time of temple festivals.

Martial Arts of Kerala
Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala is regarded as the oldest and most scientific in the world. The training in combat is given at the Kalari (training school). The principles of Kalari education stipulate that training in martial arts begins with an oil massage of the body which goes on until the body is agile and supple. Feats like chattom, ottam, marichil, etc. are then taught, followed by lessons in the use of weapons such as daggers, swords, spears, maces, bow and arrow. Kalaripayattu training aims at the ultimate co-ordination of the mind and body. The traditional training in a kalari includes specialization in indigenous medical practices too. Kalaris are also centers of religious worship. The general guidelines to be followed in Kalaripayattu demand that once the course is complete, a person should undergo oil massage and engage in the practice of the feats at least once a year to help him keep in shape.

 

Fine Arts of Kerala
The fresco paintings of Kerala are classified as "Fresco-secco" characterized by its lime colour and technique in which the walls are painted only when it becomes completely dry. As per the Shilparatna, the principal text on Indian painting techniques, white, yellow, red, black and terreverte or Syama are the pure colors that are used, either alone or mixed to derive a different colour. Ochre-red, Ochre-yellow, white, bluish green and pure green are the predominant colours that are used in Kerala murals. Golden yellow, brown, yellowish green, greenish blue and sky blue are also used. Lemon Juice or solution of Thurisu (Copper Sulphate) was used to apply on the surface to mellow the alkalinity of lime before painting the

surface. Color dyes were prepared from vegetable, mineral pigments and crude chemicals. Flat, medium and fine are three types of brushes which are used to apply the paint. Once the theme is selected, the outline is sketched with dung crayons and then painted with appropriate colors. Shilparatna recommends three types of coloring the human characters according to their status. The Hindu scriptures classify human race as Satwa (the noble), Rajas (active after power) and Tamas (low and mean characters). The Satwik is depicted by shades of green, Rajasik by red or gold and Tamasik in white and the demons and demoness by black. The art of painting on walls in Kerala belongs to prehistoric era. Paintings found in the Anjanad Valley of Idukki district are believed to be the oldest. According to the archaeologists these belong to different periods from early Paleolithic era to recent past. Rock engravings belonging to Mesolithic era were also unearthed in Edakkal in Wayanad and Perumkadavila in Thiruvananthapuram District. The mural tradition of Kerala influenced by the Pallava art can be traced back to seventh and eighth century AD.

 

Temple Music of Kerala
The Pancharimelam or Pandimelam is the traditional temple percussion music. Panchavadyam literally means five instruments. It is traditional temple music accompanying processions and pageants. The five instruments are Chenda, Kuzhal, Edakka, Elathalam, Timila. Some of the musical instruments used in the temple are Chenda, Maddalam, Udukku, Thakil, Veekuchenda, Timila, Ganjira, Edakka, Thudi Kuzhal (horn), Elathalam (small Cymball), Chengila (bronze gong), Chaplankatta (a wooden device struck together using the fingers), Nagaswaram (Long Horn), Mizhavu (a large copper pot), Nanthuni (Instrument similar to the veena).

Temple Music Kerala

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