Kathakali is an ancient form of drama dance and music depicting stories which come mainly from the two ancient epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabhrata. Makeup and costume are very important, the different colours and shapes painted on the face define who is the hero and who the villain, sometimes papier mache padding is used to make the face larger and more frightening. Costumes and headgear are large, bulky and heavy, these performers have to be strong and fit, the training can take many years. Hand gestures are important for the characters to tell the story, there are 24 basic gestures, some with one hand and some with two, in all the combined ways to form the hands, there are an amazing 470 symbols.

Koodiyattam ( Kutiyattam )

This is temple art drama, told in Sanskrit apart from one character, the Vidushaka (clown or jester) who speaks in Malayalam. There are annual performances at the Koodal Manickyam temple at Irinjalakkuda, and the Vadakkumnatha temple at Thrissur.


Theyyam is a sacred ritual dance of North Kerala, usually performed between October and May. Characters range from mythical animals to local heroes and ancestors, telling the stories with vocal and instrumental music. With fantastic costumes and headgear, and dramatic face painting, each performance has a carnival atmosphere.

Theeyattam (Thiyattu)

Also from North Kerala, Theeyattam literally means the dance of the God and is extremely energetic, the dancer moving faster and faster to the rhythm of long drums. His head dress can reach nearly 2mts high, and is made of a bamboo frame covered with fronds of palm leaves. The procession of enthusiastic followers, the wild music and fireworks add to the dramatic atmosphere.


This is an orchestra of five instruments, four being percussion, timila, maddalam, ilathalam and idakka, the fifth is the kombu, a wind instrument. The performers take positions opposite each other, usually in a semi circle; at a major event there will be sixty instumentalists. One such event is the famous Thrissur Poorum where the Panchavadyam is known as the Madhathil Varavu.

Ottam Thullal

Thullal originated in the 1700s, introduced by the poet Kunchan Nambiar. It is a solo performance in poetry and dance. It is popular due to it,s satire and comedy. The make up is striking and dramatic though less complicated that Kathakali.


Dancers wearing woven grass skirts and painted wooden masks go from house to house receiving small gifts of jaggery, rice or small amounts of cash. The dancers carry long sticks and are led by an old woman representing the mother of everyone and everything.


Kuthuyottam is temple theatre performed in Sanskrit, believed to be 2000 yrs old. In the modern world, the art is performed in other venues in addition to temples and the female roles are played only by women. Costumes makeup and headgear are similar to other Kerala art forms such as Kathakali.


Kalaripayattu is a highly respected martial art form that differs slightly in North, mid and South Kerala. Although it looks aggressive, it was initially developed as a self defence system requiring complete self discipline. The fighters use a variety of weapons including bow and arrow, spears and sticks, the great skill of these young men ensures that the contests do not result in injury. Yoga and meditation form the background to training, in ancient times theses martial arts were used by royal bodyguards and place guards to great effect.


This is a classical temple dance combining mime, comedy, hand gestures and facial expressions. The stories told are taken from the epics, but the comedy can also contain current affairs.

Nangiar Koothu

This is a 1500 yr old solo recitation performed only by women. They tell the stories of Lord Krishna with body movements, hand gestures and facial expressions.


The Sopanam is temple music sung to the accompaniment of addaka drum and a metal gong (chengila) to keep the beat. The ragas are passed down in families from generation to generation. Some North and South Kerala temples have their own set of hereditary musicians.

Sarpam Thullal

Sarpam is usually performed in the courtyards of old Kerala homes which have a snake shrine, the purpose is to honour the snake gods who represent Mother Earth.It represents the whole community and celebrates life itself. Mostly Sarpam is performed by couples wishing for a child.

Pulluvan Pattu

This another ritual based on the snake deity, the music is played on pulluvan veena, a one stringed violin, pulluvan kutam, an earthenware pot with a string across the top and thaalam, metal bell cymbals all made by the Pullava community, ( people who sing snake songs )


Also known as Desathukali, these are fast moving dances performed to devotional folk songs. They came to be when dance and comedy were introduced in to martial arts training, they contain contain dance , drama, music and martial art. Groups from Kerala exhibit Kanyarkali at the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi each year.


This is a shadow puppet show, performed behind a screen, white representing earth and heaven at the top and black, where demons live, at the bottom. The screen is lit from behind to show the characters as shadows. The artist sings as he moves the puppet shapes to tell the story.


This classically feminine dance of Kerala is reminiscent of gracefully swaying coconut trees. Meaning the dance of the enchantress, it represents grace and beauty, the movements are dignified and easy, subtle and graceful, suggestive of love.


This Hindu festival is celebrated in Kerala at the time of the full moon December/January and is related the Lord Shiva. On this day, Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati are taken from the temple to lead a grand procession.

Puli kali

This dance of the tigers is one of Kerala,s unique art forms, it takes many hours for the men to have their bodies painted to represent the tiger. The theme of the dance is a tiger hunt and is performed to the beat of the addukku drum and takes place mainly in the Thrissur district at Onam.


Velakali is an all male performance to the rhythm of percussion instruments, the dancers wear the traditional head dress of Nair soldiers with beaded cloths covering their chests. It is said to enact a mock battle between Lord Krishna and his friends on the banks of the Kalinda river.


This dance is performed at marriage ceremonies when a group of girls dance a round the bride who sits on her chair as the chief spectator. Two or three girls will begin to sing, then the others will join in this cheerful custom which has see a surge in popularity in North Kerala.


This dance is performed at marriage ceremonies when a group of girls dance a round the bride who sits on her chair as the chief spectator. Two or three girls will begin to sing, then the others will join in this cheerful custom which has see a surge in popularity in North Kerala.


This is popular among the Muslims of the Malabar region of Kerala, the performers sit or stand opposite each other, singing and swaying to the rhythm of the duff, a percussion instrument made of wood and leather. Duffmuttu songs are tributes to heroes and martyrs.


This is a ritual dance performed by women of the Syrian Christians, who wear white saris while dancing round a lamp which is said to represent Christ. There is no musical accompaniment to the songs of Margomkali.

Chavittu Natakam

This is a colourful dance form which originated in Cochin with the Latin Christian Portuguese. It is a blend of many cultural influences, closely allied to European opera. There will be a large number of characters in rich medieval costumes, and the stories will be of religious or historical content.

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