Art and culture

Art and culture of Kerala

Kerala is the heart of India and why not? From its scenic beauty, open hearts to cultural unity- it has everything. It’s a perfect holiday spot for your vacation. But one thing that makes Kerala even more unique and ecstatic is its art and culture. There are so many art forms whose origins dates back to the history of this princely state Kerala. This article will take you through the wide array of Kerala’s art and cultures and how people follow one Thallam in it!


Koodiyattom is a “combined acting” in Malayalam and Tamil with the elements of Koothu. It is traditional art form performed in Kerala. It is the only surviving art form that uses dramas from ancient Sanskrit theatre. It has an attested history of a thousand years in Kerala, but its origin and evolution are shrouded in mystery. The main musical instruments used in Koodiyattam are mizhavu, kuzhitalam, edakka, kurumkuzhal, and sankhu. Mizhavu is the most prominent amongst all. The art form is usually performed to promote unity and harmony and everyone together perform the dance. Koodiyattom is mostly performed inside a temple, and some Temples in Kerala have special halls for the performances. The main actor is known as Chakyar who performs ritualistic Koothu and Koodiyattom inside the temples. Mani Madhava Chakyar was one of the most renowned dancer specialized in Koodiyattom.


Kummattikali is the famous colorful mask-dance of South Malabar, performed during the festival of Onam. The Kannyar Kali dances which is also known as Desathukali are fast-moving, militant dances attuned to rhythmic devotional folk songs and asuravadyas. Also important are various performance genres that are Islam- or Christianity-themed. The dancers wear heavily painted wooden masks depicting portrays of Krishna, Rama and other godly figures. The skirts are made of plaited grasses. Some covers their half body that is below the waist and some prefers adorning the body completely by plaited grasses. The instrument used for music are Onavillu made from string of bows. This is one of the most important dance form of Kerala broadcasting two broad categories- ritualistic and non-ritualistic, and people from all the communities participate in this.

Carnatic music:

Carnatic music is a kind of music associated with southern India. It is one of the two most old Indian music evolved in Hindu traditions. There are some stylistic differences in this type of music but the composition of raga, Swara and Sruti are the same as any other style. Like any other mythological art form, the Carnatic music also said to have origins from the Devas and Devis (Hindu gods). The main emphasis in Carnatic music is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung and are thus meant to be performed in singing style by the singer or the Gayak. The music is performed by small assembled musicians who together perform locally from places to places. Various music festivals featuring Carnatic music performances are held in India and throughout the world. Chennai has a six day-long ‘music festival’ mostly featuring Carnatic music which is described as India’s biggest cultural event.


Kathakali is a major Indian dance form not only in Kerala but around the globe. It is a “story play” genre of art which means while performing Kathak the artist portrays a complete story to the audience. That’s why even the word Kathakali has two components ‘katha’ which means a story and ‘kali’ which means performance. The dance symbolizes the eternal fight between the good and the bad. Kathakali is known to be the most difficult dance form to pull out on stage as the choreography includes both- the dance and the acting. There are 24 main mudras, and numerous more minor ones in Kathakali, there are also nine facial expressions known as ‘navarasas’. The three types of drums of Kathakali are Maddalam, Chenda and Idakka. The start is usually through the music and later the lyrics are sung by the vocalist on which the actual dance starts. The art form also involves several national awards like Nambeesan Smaraka Awards — for artistic performances related to kathakali or International Centre for Kathakali Award.


Onam is a harvest festival celebrated extravagantly by the people of Kerala. It is also a state festival of Kerala holding 4 day long state holiday starting from the Onam eve and lasting up to Onam day. It is among the festival celebrated with the highest range of cultural elements including all the cultures, religions and castes. It is a festival of unity and togetherness. It is celebrated mostly to celebrate the homecoming of King Mahabali, who Malayalees consider to be just and fair King who was exiled to the underworld.


Kerala has its very own form of martial arts- Kalarippayattu. It is attributed to the oral tradition of Parasurama. It has three schools, which are differentiated by their attacking and defensive patterns- Arappa Kayy, Pilla Thangi, and Vatten Thiripp. The three systems famous in Kalarippayattu are the northern style, central and southern style. All have different techniques of performing but the core is almost similar. The form includes excessive exercises and training. Kalaripayattu is taught not just as a martial art, but as a way of life that shows respect and compassion to others. It is also known as a martial art for warriors because of its tough styles and patterns including fire, swords, wooden sticks, and many more weapons. Meenakshi Raghavan Gurukkal is known as the oldest female practitioner of the ancient Indian martial art form Kalaripayattu.

Folklore of Kerala:

The folklore or Kerala is very popular as it includes elements from the daily lives of the people. Kanyar Kali, Padayani, Mudiyettu, Thirayattam, Malavayiyattam, Theyyam, Kothamooriyattam, Nira, Puthari, etc. are some of the ritual folklore of Kerala. It was under the rule of Kolathiris, the Kings of Kolathunadu, and they codified the rituals, beliefs, taboos, and folk performing arts. This is well proved by the Theyyam festival which dates back centuries but still is celebrated just because it was the order of the king. There are many other cultural elements that together make up the folklore of Kerala. 

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