a long tradition of ritual and performing arts. Social and
religious history of Kerala greatly contributes and
perpetuates to the evolution of these arts. Dances of Kerala
are integral parts of Kerala's socio-cultural life. They are
performed on the occasion of religious festivals and social
events such as childbirth and marriage.
Kerala is the birthplace of two classical dance forms -
Kathakali and Mohiniattam. The former has only male
performers, and the latter can only be performed by females.
Kathakali owes its origin in the 17th century Kerala. It is
a highly evolved form of dance-drama, where subtle facial
and mudras or hand formations play crucial roles in infusing
life to the characters.In Kathakali recital, emotive
expressions of the elaborately costumed actors with
colourfully painted faces, amalgamate with their fluid dance
movements to take the viewers to a new aesthetic level,
where only music, dance and pantomime narration rules…
Kathakali is also known as the king of the performing arts
as it combines five main fine arts such as painting,
literature, acting, music and dance. It combines aspects of
ballet, opera, pantomime and masque in it. The themes of
Kathakali are generally mythological, and are centered
around Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kerala's famous wood items
with magnificent carvings are used for costumes. The face
painting requires about 3-5 hours. The vegetable dyes and
lime, indigo, soot, sulphur, rice paste and vermilion are
used for painting the face, which is rubbed with coconut
oil. Two male singers sing the songs which accompany these
dance performances. These songs are known as Kathakali Padam.
The instruments used are the ela talam, the maddalam, the
chengila and the chenda.
important classical dance of Kerala is the Mohiniattam. It
is a solo dance, to be performed by a woman. It was
initially performed by the Devdasis in the temples. However,
the dance has a sensual element in it. The dances are
accompanied by singing of lyrics and music. The costume of
Mohiniattam is a white sari embroidered with dazzling golden
brocade at the edges. This dance form is also heavily
dependent upon facial expressions and mudras, which
complements the deft movements of the
danseuse.Mohiniattam has imbibed influences of Bharata
Natyam and Kathakali in it.
Besides these classical dances, Kerala also has a great many
ritual and folk dance forms, which amply embody the
fascinating enigma of this land. Theyyam, Arjuna Nrityam and
Kaikottaikali are only some of them.
Arjuna Nrityam is referred as 'the Dance of Arjuna'. It is
inspired from Mahabharata. This dance form is performed in
the Bhagavathy or Bhadrakali temples of Kerala. This dance
is performed by the men wearing a costume with the lower
garment made from the peacock feathers. Hence, it is also
known as Mayilpeeli Thookkam or Mayilpeeli Nrityam. 'Mayil'
in Malayalam means peacock whereas 'Peeli' translates into
feather. The dancers paint their faces using the green
vegetable dyes in the traditional way. They also wear
headgears. This dance is performed either solo or in pairs;
the performances lasting the whole night. The performance is
held in the light of traditional oil lamps. The songs to
which the dances are rendered are known
as Kavithangal. They deal with the Hindu mythological
themes. The traditional instruments used during the dance
are maddalam, ilathalam, chenda and talachenda.
Theyyam is another folk dance of Kerala which has its
origins in the archaic past. It is generally performed among
the tribal groups of Kerala, and the dancers adorn grotesque
make up and costumes. This folk dance takes the form of
worshipping and appeasing of spirits and various deities,
and invoking them to the mortal body of the dancers. The
'possessed' dancers display uncommon fervour and dance
animatedly, while bestowing blessings to the believers. The
Theyyam performers belong to the Mannan, Velan and Malayan
communities of Kerala. It is an open-air dance and doesn't
have or require any stage.
The Theyyam dances are accompanied by full-throated tottam
songs, devoid of any literary sophistication, which the folk
singers render in their loud voices, along with the
'possessed' dance of the dancers. The atmosphere becomes
charged with excitement and anticipation, which can even
induce many non-believers to believe in spirits. However,
despite its primeval character, Theyyam dance is many a time
performed for satiating many day-to-day needs of today, such
as wining of law suits and getting children.
Kaikottikali is a popular folk dance form of Kerala, which
is being performed only by the women and young maidens. This
dance form is associated with two festive occasions known as
the Onam and the Thiruvathirai. The participants wear the
traditional attire, the gold-bordered mundu and neriyathu. A
group of 7-10 women perform this dance around the brass
lighted lamp known as the nilavilakku. Kaikottikali
emphasize on the rhythmic movements.
Some of the other popular dance forms of Kerala include:
- Bharata Natyam
Together, these dances of Kerala represent the seminal
rhythm of the life-force of the colourful and fascinating
people of Kerala.