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Home » Art & Crafts of Kerala

Art & Crafts of Kerala

Kathakali, KeralaFor the lover of dance, drama and music, Kerala is heaven. You have scores of art forms, which are quite unique in nature to Kerala, like Kathakali, Ottamthullal, Chakyar Koothu, Krishnanattam, Padayani, Pavakathakali, Theyyam, Velakali, Thiruvathirakali, Kolkali etc. Watch them and experience an endless and varied emotions to win your passion, love, kindness, compassion, mirth, joy, sorrow, grief, anger, wonder, horror, fear, valour, courage etc. And then relax with the thought, all the world is a stage.


Kathakali :
Perhaps Kerala is the only state in India that has such myriad forms of performing arts that are grand spectacle of colors and costumes. Kathakali, the pride of Kerala, is an art form where music, dance and drama are incredibly synchronized. Mohiniyattom, Ottanthullal, Koodiyattam, Chakiarkoothu, Pathakam and Chavittunatakam, though lesser known to the outside world are equally important art forms of Kerala.

Kathakali is the most famous dance-drama of Kerala. This classical art from is distinguished by several unique features. It is a marvelous blend of the 'tandava' (masculine) and 'lasya' (languish) elements of dancing. Kathakali is considered to be more than 1500 years old. The costume, makeup, movements, expression and the language make Kathakali a visual treat. The make-up changes according to the characters enacted. The actors do not speak, but enact the 'padams' (dialogues) sung by the singers behind. The themes of Kathakali are drawn from Indian myth and the characters are Gods, humans and demons. The stories revolve around the lives, loves and times of Gods, demons and humans.

Kathakali consists of three fine arts. Abhinayam (acting) Nrityam (dancing) and Geetham (singing). The actors enact their roles with the help of 'Mudras' (hand-gestures) and facial expressions. Music is a very essential aspect of Kathakali. Two musicians sing the 'Padams', Drums-Chenda and Maddalam provide the percussion. The music, though Carnatic, has a typical flavor of Kerala and it adheres to the Thala (rhythm) instead of Raaga. There are five major costumes used in Kathakali, each with set modes of make-up. Each costume design denotes the characteristics possessed by the character. Kerala Kalamandalam - the famous Kathakali institue is situated in Cheruthuruthi near Trichur.

Kathakali is usually presented at dusk, sometimes continuously for many days. Each night will feature one act of the play. The performance lasts till dawn.


Theyyam :
This is a ritual dance and one of the oldest forms of dances. Theyyam is associated with the cult of Goddess Bhagawati. The themes of these dances revolve around the triumph of the Goddess over the evil characters like the demon Daraka (Darakasuran). Theyyam is always performed by men and they are often costumed as women in exotic make-up. The men performing the dance wear masks and elaborate costumes. The headdress made of palm leaves and cloth can at times rise well over forty feet in height. The dancer moves to the rhythm of 'Chenda' (drum) and when the dance picks up momentum, he casts a spell on the spectators, often in a religious way.


Koodiyattam :
Arts & Crafts in KeralaThe Aryans, who came to these lands centuries before the beginning of the Christian era, brought with them the language Sanskrit and their culture. They introduced a new dance form, Koodiyattam, which, unlike the most other dance forms, include women participants. Since Koodiyattam performances were preferred as offerings to the deity, they were enacted only in temples. For the purpose, many temples have beautiful pavilions within their precincts, which are known as Koothambalam, with high sloping roofs covered with metal sheeting.

A Koodiyattam performance is a long, drawn - out affair, taking vast area, height and lasting for days. The story unfolds leisurely, and the text is augmented by the performers by expanding upon them with anecdotes, satires and innuendos. Politics, philosophy and social behavior are covered in the comments. The pivotal role in these performances belongs to the Jester, as he is the only one who speaks and the language is Malayalam. He translates the Sanskrit version with a touch of humor. He also acts as a bridge between the actor and the audience.


Mohiniyattam :
Mohiniyattam is a semi-classical dance form. It contains elements of Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi. It is based on the story of ‘Mohini’, the mythological seductress. The movements are graceful like that of Odissi and the costumes sober and fascinating. It combines songs in Malayalam with Carnatic music. It is performed mainly in Kerala. It is essentially a solo dance. The first reference to Mohiniyattam is found in ‘Vyavaharamala’ composed by Mazhamangalam Narayanan Namboothiri assigned to the 16th century. In the 19th century, Swathi Thirunal, the Maharaja of erstwhile Travancore did much to encourage and stabilize this art form. It was poet Vallathol who again revived it and gave it a standing in modern times through Kerala Kalamandalam which he founded in 1930.


Chakkiaroothu :
This is a very ancient dance form of Kerala. It is believed to have been introduced by the early Aryan immigrants . This is performed by the members of the Chakkiar caste. It is a highly orthodox type of entertainment. It is staged inside temples only and the theatre is known as ‘Koothambalam.’ The performances are usually witnessed by the Hindus belonging to the higher castes.

In Chakkiarkoothu, the story is recited in a quasi-dramatic style with emphasis on eloquent declarations with appropriately suggestive facial expressions and hand gestures. The only accompaniments are the cymbals and the drum known as the mizhavu, made of copper with a narrow mouth on which is stretched a piece of parchment.


Kalarippayatt :
Arts & Drama in KeralaKalarippayatt is the traditional martial art of Kerala. It is believed to be the forerunner of all eastern martial arts . It has played a significant role in the technical development of all other performing arts in Kerala. Its roots can be traced back to the 12th century when skirmishes among the many feudal principalities were very common.

Kalarippayatt is still taught in Kerala. The CVN Kalari Sangham in Thiruvananthapuram imparts training in Kalarippayatt. The founders of this Sangham played a significant role in the revival of Kalarippayatt. There are Kalries in north Kerala too, especially in Kozhikode.

Masters of Kalarippayatt are called GURUKKAL. Kalarippayatt is taught inside a special arena called KALARI, which is part school, part gymnasium and part temple. A kalari is constructed following traditional principles. Its rectangular design is always aligned east - west direction and Hindu deities are represented at each corner.

Training in Kalarippayatt begins at a very young age. Both boys and girls are taught. Learning requires ritual stretching and flexing exercises to achieve balance and concentration. To increase suppleness of limbs, a full body massage is given. During the course of the training, various weapons are introduced including the sword and shield of the medieval warrior.


Bharat Natyam :
It is believed to be India’s oldest form of classical dance. This dance form which is called poetry in motion, has its hoary origins in the Natya Sastra written about 4000 B.C. by Sage Bharatha. This art form grossly disallows new fangled innovations or gimmicks except in repertoire and forms of presentation. It was originally known as ‘Dasi Attam,’ a temple art performed by young women called ‘devadasis.’

After the 16th century, this dance form went into disrepute due to economic and social conditions and became synonymous with prostitution. It was Rukmini Devi who gave it a new life and respectability. The present form was evolved in the 19th century by four Tanjore dancers, Ponniah Pillai and his three brothers.

To become proficient in Bharatha Natyam, one must be talented and extremely dedicated. It requires at least seven years of dedicated training to master the different gestures and poses and the various emotions called ‘bhavas.’ The skill of the artist in conveying the ‘bhava’ or ‘rasa’ is more important to the audience than the accompanying song.

Bharatha Natyam is commonly performed by women, but sometimes by men also. There are strict guidelines laid down regarding every single aspect of the art including the attributes required in order to be an accomplished dancer.


Velakali :
It is one of the most elaborate and spectacular martial folk arts of Kerala. This ritual art form is usually presented within the temple premises and is called Thirumumbil vela when performed before the deity and Kulathilvela when performed near the temple pond. Fifty or more performers in the traditional attire of soldiers, bearing colourful shields and swords or long canes, dance with war like steps in perfect orchestration with the resounding rhythm of the thakil, suddha maddalam, elathalam, kuzhal and trumpets. A few fighting techniques of Kalaripayattu are also displayed in the course of the performance.


Krishnanattam :
Arts & Drama in KeralaKrishnanattam, as the name suggests, originated as a votive offering to Sree Krishna. It is performed in group and is presented across eight nights. The story is based on the Sanskrit text, Krishna Geetha. The charm of this classical art form is in the synchronised grace of movement of the entire group. The costume and makeup of Krishnanattam bear traces of resemblance to Kathakali and folk arts like Thiyattam, Mudiyettu and Theyyam. Musical instruments used are maddalam, elathalam and chengila. Krishnanattam is most commonly performed in the Guruvayoor temple.


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