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Kerala: Classic Art of Kerala

Kathakali (literally, story play):

This spectacular classical dance drama of Kerala based on the guidelines laid by sage Bharatha's Natya Sastra, the ancient treatise on dance and drama, is over 1500 years old.

This elaborate art form is usually performed in the evening and continues up to dawn, and is an integral part of all temple and cultural festivals in Kerala.

The costumes and makeup are ornamental, elaborate and design to give a superhuman effect. The actors do not speak or sing but enact the story through mudras (hand gestures) graceful movements and facial expressions. The themes of this awe inspiring art are taken from India's rich and colourful mythology.

Music is an essential feature of Kathakali with two vocalists who sing to the accompaniment of a chengila (gong), elathalam (small cymbals), chenda and maddalam.


Also called Koothu, is one of the oldest classical theatre arts of Kerala. The solo dance is usually presented in the Koothambalam of temples to the accompaniment of the mizhavu and elathalam. The performance begins with an invocation to the presiding deity of the temple. The narration is enlivened with the thandava dance movements, gestures and facial expressions according to the guidelines in Natya Sastra. Koothu is distinct for its comic element which adds to its dramatic character. Themes are usually from the epics. The costume is colourful and bizarre with a strange headgear.

Koodiyattam (literally, dancing together)

is perhaps the oldest dance drama still in existence in India. Based on the Sanskrit text, a performance of this art form may last from a few days to a few weeks. The Koothambalam is elaborately decorated with plantain trees, bunches of tender coconut and fronds of coconut leaves; the stage, however, is simple. Koodiyattam is performed in different stages-the opening beat of a drum, the invocation (vandana slokam), the purificatory ceremony, an interlude of orchestra and then the actual recital. Makeup patterns and costumes of Koodiyattam are believed to be the forerunners of the Kathkali costume.


the name suggests, originated as a votive offering to sree Krishna. This group performance, based on the Sanskrit text Krishna Geetha, is presented across eight nights. The charm of this classical art form is in the synchronised graceful movements of the entire group. The costume and makeup of Krishnanattam bear traces of resemblances to Kathkali and folk arts likeThiyattam, Mudiyettu and Theyyam. Musical instruments used are maddalam, elathalam and chengila. Krishnanattam is most commonly performed in the Guruvayoor temple.

Mohiniyattam (the dance of the enchantress):

This classical solo dance form combines the graceful elegance of Bharatanatyam with the vigour and dynamism of Kathakli, to create a mood that is predominantly sringara(erotic).

The dance is usually performed on specially put up stages in connection with temple festivals. The costume is the traditional white mundu and melmundu of Kerala. The hair is gathered and put up at the side of the head and adorned with jasmine, in the traditional style.

Patakam (literally, dissertation):

is similar to Koothu in technical content, gestures and movements. However, the narration is through prose and song sequences. The costume is predominated by the red colour-the red head dress and a red silk wrist band. The performer also wears heavy garlands around the neck and thick lines of sandal paste across the forehead. Patakam is also performed outside the temples.


is a modification of the koothu and is characterised by simplicity of presentation, wit and humour. This dance form was originated by Kunjan Nambiar, one of the leading poets of Malayalam. The solo performance is marked by fast and rhythmic movements. The dancer himself sings the lead to accompaniment of the maddalam and elathalam. Thullal is classified into three - Ottanthullal, Seethankam thullal and Parayanthullal-based on the metre and rhythm of the songs and distinction in costume and dance.

As most other art forms of Kerala, Thullal also has colourful costumes, with elaborate headgears and painting of the face. And is usually presented during temple festivals.
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