Kerala Art & Culture

Besides the physical beauty, Kerala has a rich cultural heritage, which fascinates the tourists a lot. The art and culture of Kerala portrays various dance forms and martial arts performed with the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music. All these art forms are performed during some celebration or festivity.

Spectacular visual effects and stunning music are hallmarks of Kerala's performing arts. In a land, which cannot boast of monumental architectural feats, unlike many other parts of India, the performing arts, both individually and collectively, make up for the lost magnificence. Kerala's unique selling point is its rich culture, which was mellowed by centuries-old rich heritage. Culture and heritage are pervasive presence across the state and are kept alive through the state's performing arts

The Performing arts of Kerala

Kerala’s performing arts are feast to the eyes of tourists. A sheer variety of art forms, when performed by consummate artistes with the requisite paraphernalia make watching them worth. Legends and legendary characters resurrect from the dog-eared pages of history books and make their apparitions on the stages leaving the audience in ecstasy. The attire, roves and facial expressions of the artistes are a sumptuous treat for eyes.

A ritual dance performed in temples by appointed people in fulfillment of vows of devotees. It is purported to be the dance by the Goddess Herself. The dancers are men in feminine attire wearing colourful costumes made usually of palm leaves, cloth and brass jewellery, ferocious masks and big head gear, often extending up to forty feet in height.

Kathakali was born only in the 17th century. But in less than four centuries it grew up to represent India's cultural heritage to the world outside. Kathakali explicates ideas and stories from the Indian epics and Puranas. The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music,drama and dance are unparalleled in any other art form.
The identity of the actor is completely mutilated to create a super humanbeing of larger-than-life proportion. Kathakali make-up and costuming is intricate, elaborate and colorful. It takes about three hours for an actor to transform into a full-fledged character with facial make-up, head-gear, ornaments and colorful costumes. Their make-up and costumes differ from one another. Love, Separation, virtue vs. vice, comic relief, emotional struggles, gruesome-war and murder are common scenes in the Kathakali plays.
It is the typical dance form of Kerala. As the name denotes, it is an amorous dance performed in slow, elegant and sensuous pace with formulated hand gestures translating the song to which it is performed. The dancer with normal facial make up and clad in gilded sari with series of pleats and jacket sways her body to the rhythm of orchestrated background music.
It presents naturally beautiful dancer in her natural beauty.
Thiruvathirakali is a dance performed by women, in order to attain everlasting marital bliss, on Thiruvathira day in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December- January). The sinuous movements executed by a group of dancers around a lamp, embody the amorous charm and grace of the feminine. The dance follows a circular,
pirouetting pattern accompanied by clapping of the hands and singing.
Martial Arts - Kalarippayattu
Kalarippayattu, the martial art of Kerala, is as old as the great Indian philosophy and the Vedas. Kalari also means a temple where the family deity presides. Kalari has no accompanying instruments to punctuate its movements. The locomotion and bodily throws and thrusts of the practitioner are done according to verbal instructions of the teacher, which are articulated in the mould of a special rhythm.

Kalari practices gives to any dancer, female or male, proper grounding for developing skillfulness and flexibility of body. One of the peculiarities of the concept of movement in the Kalari system is that it is conceived as a kind of expression of an inner urge. There was a developed system of medicine, practiced in all Kalaris and this formed a branch of Ayurveda. Kalarippayattu is considered by many as the most comprehensive of all the martial traditions because, it has an excellent system of physical training; very effective self defense techniques ? both armed and unarmed; great system of vital point/pressure point system of fighting and treatment based on the principles of Ayurveda? a great philosophy based on the Vedic culture of India.

Impressive costume down the waistline and colourful crown are copied from Kathakali, with slight variations. Ornaments are made up mainly of tender leaves of coconut and glass beads. It is a solo dance with the artiste himself singing the verses to the accompaniment of Mridangam and timing with a refrain repeater singing in the background. Usually the performance lasts a couple of hours.
The literal meaning of the title being concomitant dancing, it is another temple opera performed jointly by Chakyars and Nambiars. They present mythological plays in Sanskrit through nine nights. It is an old form of art improved by Poet Thola, now performed only in certain major temples like Irinjalakkuda, Perinjanam, Kottiyur, etc.
Panchavadyam, an orchestra composed of Timila, Maddalam, Edakka, Cymbols and Kompu, is an ensemble performed mostly during temple-festivals. Panchavadyam provides sufficient scope for collective and individual performance. Starting from a slow tempo it steadily progresses and reaches the crescendo. It is a tower of rhythm created in front of caparisoned elephants lining up in the temple-yard during the festival. The music of Panchavadyam is engrossing especially in the lush green background of the pastoral-temples.
Attired in a guilt bordered cloth, wearing a red cap and ornaments on the neck, ear and hands, the artist recites the scriptural poem and annotations with witty and humorous examples and anecdotes with the accompaniment of the Mizhavu (a percussion instrument). He is licensed to tease and cut jokes on anyone among the audience, even the mighty ruler, during the discourse exploiting the legendary situations as all those are permitted as the prerogatives of the Chakyar. One should know Malayalam to enjoy the congenital jokes.
A Christian art form of Kerala. Evolved at the turn of the 16th Century AD during the Portuguese colonization and bears definite traces of the European Christian Miracle Play. In this musical drama, the actors wear Greco-Roman costumes and even the stage props bear several foreign influences.
A dance form essential to the wedding entertainment and festivities of the Malabar Muslims. Maidens and young female relatives sing and dance around the bride, clapping their hands. The songs of Mappilappattu are first sung by the leader and are repeated by the chorus. Oppana is often presented as a stage item today.
Mural Painting
Mural painting brings an elevating experience, thanks to the greatness of the themes drawn from Hindu mythology, as well as their purity of lines,freshness of colours and depth of expression.

In Kerala, the land of exotic wood - sandalwood, teak, rosewood, mahogany- one can enjoy the delicacy and evocative power of woodcarving. This ancient tradition has been handed down over the centuries by craftsmen whose role is midway between priest and architect, as they perform minor rituals and determine auspicious locations for various constructions.


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