Popular Art Forms of Kerala

20 June 2024

1. Kathakali

Kathakali is a traditional Indian classical dance that is native to Kerala and almost exclusively practised by them. It is a ‘story play’ genre of art.

2. Kalarippayattu

Indian martial art Kalaripayattu or Kalari, was developed in Kerala in the 11th century. Kalaripayattu utilises the Indian ‘guru-shishya’ system.

3. Mohiniyattam

Another popular art form in Kerala is the Mohiniyattam or Mohiniattam. The name comes from Mohini, the female avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu.

4. Theyyam

The northern part of Kerala is the hub of the Hindu religious ritual called Theyyam, ‘Tiṟa,’ or ‘Kaḷiyāṭṭaṁ.’ The people look to Theyyam for blessings.

5. Margamkali

Margamkali is an ancient Indian round dance that is primarily performed by the endogamous Knanaya or Southist Christians; a part of the St. Thomas Christians community.

6. Koodiyattam

Another art form of Kerala is Koodiyattam, which means "playing/performing together." It combines elements of Koothu with elements of ancient Sanskrit theatre.

7. Oppana

Oppana is a common social amusement performance art form among Kerala's Mappila (Kerala Muslim) community. It is a staple of every Mappila wedding.

8. Thiruvathirakali

Women perform Thiruvathirakali, also known as Kaikottikali or Kummikali, in small groups both during and outside of religious rites. They dance around in a circle and typically sing Shiva Parvati's praises.

9. Padayani

Padayani (row of warriors) is a ritual theatre art form associated with the Goddess’ temples in Kerala's Central Travancore regions. It's an ancient ritual, danced ceremonially while wearing masks.

10. Pulikali

Pulikali is a recreational art form in Kerala. Usually performed on the fourth day of Onam, artists dressed in vivid yellow, red, and black paint, resembling tigers and leopards, shake their stomachs.

11. Kolkali

Kerala's Malabar region is home to the folk art form known as Kolkali. The dancers move in a circle, striking little sticks and steps to maintain rhythm. As the dance progresses, the circle expands and contracts.

12. Mudiyettu

Kerala's Mudiyettu is a community-based folk dance drama and traditional ritual theatre that enacts the myth of the goddess Kali battling the demon Darika. It is performed from February through May.

13. Thullal

The 18th century saw the introduction of Thullal, a satirical and humorous form of social criticism, introduced by the renowned poet Kunchan Nambiar.

14. Kalamezhuthu

Kalamezhuthu is a ritual art which uses mixed coloured powders to create exquisite floor paintings that honour and venerate the great gods such as Bhadrakaali, Ayyappan, or Serpent.

15. Koothu

Koothu is a socio-religious art form that is either performed separately or as a part of Kutiyattam. It is a solo narrative performance with comedic and mime interspersed.

16. Pancharimelam

A percussion art form called Pancharimelam is often played at Kerala temple festivals. An elaborate version of Pancharimelam is performed during the annual temple festivals.

17. Chavittunatakam

Originating in Fort Kochi, Kerala, Chavittunatakam is a vibrant classical Latin Christian art form. It is renowned for the characters’ make-up, ornate costumes, expressions, and body motions.

18. Sarpam Thullal

The ritual known as Sarpam Thullal (Dance of Snakes) or Nagakalam Pattu is primarily connected to ancestral temples of Kerala. The ritual is conducted to appease the snake gods.

19. Chakyarkoothu

Chakyarkoothu is a performance art form of Kerala. It is an elegant monologue where the performer narrates the tales from the Puranas or Hindu epics. It often doubles as a loose stand-up comedy act.

20. Vela Kali

During temple festivals, the Nair community of Kerala performs their traditional martial dance, Vela Kali. A battle scene between the Pandavas and Kauravas is portrayed by vibrantly costumed dancers.