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Kerala Art and Culture

Spirituality in Kerala is indeed a heady cocktail, a swirl of intellectual philosophy and sacred ritual, with a measure of dutiful living, a dash of unquestioning faith and generous shots of pomp and pageantry. Religion is an important facet of Kerala culture. We can see a temple at every corner, a church at   every neighborhood, a mosque in every nook. And come festival time, ‘Kerala’s shrines are the backdrop for the states most colorful art forms and most impressive festivities. There is no better occasion for Kerala’s rituals and customs to be showcased to the world than during its many festivals. Some are associated with religious occasions, others with local history or folklore, what ever the occasion, come festival time; Kerala pulls out all the stops, shrugging off its customary understated, modest attire to put on a mantle of flamboyant splendors.

Folk Arts
A visitor passing through the state will be astonished by the vast array of folk arts that find expression in this bewitching land..

Majority of folk arts were conceived or related to local mythology or religious rites. Poothan-thirakali involving Lord Shiva and Goddess Bhadrakali, Tholapavakoothu, the enactment of Ramayana, using leather puppets; Mudiyettu and Padayani embodies the triumphant march of Goddess Kali after defeating the demon Darika. Kummattikali and Thiruvathirakali which celebrate the arrival of king Mahabali to visit his subjects during Onam. Colorful costumes with elaborate headgears are a hallmark of many folk arts and are performed traditionally by specific communities. The folk dance Margamkali is performed by the Syrian Christian community is a fine example for the above statements.

However, one of Kerala’s initial arts that are gaining recognition both for its antiquity and showmanship - Theyyam is dance form performed in the temples of North Kerala to invoke the gods and ancient spirits. But Theyyam is much more than a performing art and performing it in a divine trance. The dance itself is grand and energetic, the extravagant make up of the artistes adding pomp to a sacred, auspicious occasion. Gigantic headgear, vivid face painting colorful clothing and heavy ornaments ensure that the Theyyam look as imposing as gods they are believed to personify. The late night performance with music and wind instruments translate and boil your blood up to the wee house of morning followed by a festive fireworks are spending to your memories.


There is something about Kerala and Malayali that seems to foster virtuosity from intricate and exquisite art forms, to ancient and complex science, the state boasts excellence in range of indigenous fields, and always conquered the flusters of genius.
Performing Arts

Performing arts in Kerala have traditions with a long history. Some of the ancient classical arts such as Chakayar Koothu, Nangiar koothu, and Koodiyattam were staged only in special theatres which are out of reach to lower casts. Natyasastram,a classical text book by Bharathamuni, infact translated the art of language to all people. For a visitor watching Kerala’s vibrant performing arts is a memorable lesson in colors and form, technique and artistry, ritual and tradition.

The most celebrated artform of Kerala , were performed in the 13th century onwards. Kathakali is the art form modified from of Ramanattam,invented dance form  Raja of Kotarakara to counter the influence of Krishnanattam of Zamorin, Calicut, Kathakali  is much modified version of Ramanattam since  the later has lavish costumes and head wear were introduced.  The heavy costumes, elaborate makes ups, heavily lined eyes and stiff chutti in the artistes face serve to draw attention to his all important facial expressions during the performance. Kathakali continues to be a universal symbol of the state’s artistic expression.

This classical dance form is a marvelous blend of pure dance (nritham) and expository dance (nrithya) besides instruments like flute, violin, veena, local instruments like mridangam and edaccka provide the musical accomplishment along with vocalists who perform carnatic music as well the applied elements of sopanasangeetham, the traditional music of Kerala.

The beautiful gold jewelry and most popular costumes like cream colored pleated two piece sari, bordered with gold and highly sophisticated eye expression make the Mohiniyattam visually pleasing art form that even the lay person can enjoy.

Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu
The 2000 years old art form is in oral theatre and oldest of the Indian performing arts.
Chakyar Kooth is the narrative art and the ‘Chakyar’ first chants the verses in Sanskrit and then narrate the story in Malayalam. The Chakyar is a satirist par excellence, occasionally even mimicking the character in a tongue-in-check manner, switching voices and adopting gestures appropriate to each role, and often drawing social parallels between puranic tales and modern life.

In Koodyiattam, whole Chakyars perform the role of a male characters, background music is provided on the percussion instrument mizhauv and the female roles are enacted by a female artist, make Koodiyattom has been recognized by UNESCO as an illustrious example of manifestation of the heritage of human culture. 


In Kerala, music reverberates through the mundane routines of everyday life. Folk songs, classical music, Carnatic music chantend with musical instruments create a parallel culture of music. Many of these songs have passed through the lips of generations of adoring Malayalis.

In temples, bhajans and sopanasangeetham, devotional songs developed in centuries back and classic and carnatic songs are nurtured by the patronage of kings and rulers. Tunes of Vanchipattu and kathakali sangeetham provide an instance of music evolving a new style to reconcile with a performing art. The state has several indigenous instruments which have bequeathed unique notes and tempos to the world of melody from the string instrument nanthuni to wind instrument like the nadaswaram.
However Keala’s percussionists display their skills either solo or in tandem with other musical instruments like Panchavadyam is the youngest but most popular of Kerala’s orchestra’s and comprise of five percussion instruments thimila, Maddalom, Komby and the Elathalam.

Listening to a percussion orchestra gradually building to a crescendo is one of the many great experiences that the state offers.

This   martial art form of Kerala is believed to have originated between the ninth and twelfth centuries, making it the oldest surviving martial art form in the world. Both boys and girls   were initiated and trained at kalari in olden days with view of maintain and improve a good physical and mental conditions. Kalaripayattu also practice breathing technique to control the body and intellect. With month of arduous training, the body is finally strong and elastic, and the senses so heightened that the student develops an animal like instinct to presence of danger. Besides the accomplished Kalaripayattu trainee is initiated in to the use of weapons like sword, shield, dagger, etc. And are introduced to the marmams, the vulnerable parts of the human body. It is believed that a master of marmams can disable or even kill an opponent with a mere touch.

Kerala culture of Malayali culture is more or less associated with religion. Yet traditionally, there has been nothing divisive about religion in the state. The Hindu rulers of Kerala were known to have supported the establishment of churches and mosques, sometimes granting land or money for their construction. Each community has its own customs and beliefs but   many bear close resemblance to the other. Many Christian and Muslim festivals echo Hindu celebrations and are sustained by the active participation of other communities. An outstanding example of this union of faiths is the great Sabarimala Pilgrimage, during which pilgrims from Hindu and Muslim communities pay tribute at Vavar Mosque at Erumeli and St.Sebastain church at Arthungal before bowing to Lord Ayyappa.

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