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Most Famous Traditional Art Forms of Kerala.

Kerala is known for traditional arts,cultural forms and sometime reffered as land of festivals. There are various communities in Kerala who contribute diverse forms of performing arts and colorful culture.

Here is the list of traditional and classical art forms of Kerala including Panchavadyam, Nangiar Koothu, Krishnanattam, Ottamthullal, Mohiniyattam, Theeyaattam, Tholpavakoothu, Poothan and Thira.

1. Kathakali.

Kathakali is a classical Indian dance form and also the most elaborate costuming from Kerala. The style of Kathakali originated from Kerala and developed as a Hindu performance art.

Katha” means story and “Kali” stands for dance.

It is a beautiful mix of dance, drama and music that the connoisseurs of art world qualified as ‘a total art form of immense sophistication and power’.This is a form of dance formerly confined only to the festival stages in temples.

It is a mime show, dancing with mudras (formulated hand gestures conveying the text of lyrics) and specialised dancing steps following the song rendered in the background by a singer to the accompaniment of Chenda, Maddalam (country drums), Chenkila and Elathalam (Cymbals)



Mohiniyattam is another most famous classical dance form from Kerala, performed by women as a solo dance with extensive training. Mohini is the female avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu and involves various rhythms.


Mohini means enchantress and attam is dance. As the name denotes, it is an amorous (Lasya) dance performed in slow, elegant and sensuous pace with formulated hand gestures translating the song to which it is performed.

Mohiniyattam is said to have originated in Kerala. It is an art form of Travancore of nineteenth century enlivened during the regime of King Swati Thirunal. The king, a scholar, Sanskrit poet and an exponent of Carnatic and Hindustani music, patronized and popularised this art form with whole-hearted co-operation and lyrical support from Irayimman Thampi, a noted poet, often referred to as gem of his court.

3.Chakyar Koothu

Chakyar Koothu is a story and performance art, traditionally been performed only by the Chakyar community. The traditional dance form is one of the oldest classical arts of Kerala and performed in the temples.

Chakyar Koothu

Chakyar is one among the many upper cast Hindus, dependant on the temple, living by the sacrament food and meagre salary from the temple, adept in telling stories from the legends in a humorous and enchanting manner.

The term Koothu literally means dance which may be taken as an index of the importance attached to dance in the original form of the art.

In Chakyar Koothu, the story is recited in a quasi-dramatic style with emphasis on eloquent declarations with appropriately suggestive facial expressions and hand gestures.

4.Ottan Thullal.

Ottan Thullal is a dance performance form of Kerala with green makeup and a colorful costume. Ottan Thullal, Kolam Thullal and Sarpam Thullal are three most exotic and spectacular ritual performance from the state of Kerala.

Ottan Thullal

Kunchan Nambiar, the drummer, was playing Mizhavu for Chakyar koothu. It is a solo dance with the artiste himself singing the verses to the accompaniment of Mridangam and timing with a refrain repeater singing in the background. Usually the performance lasts a couple of hours.

One day, against all precedence, he happened to doze off by sheer inactivity caused by a prolonged talk by the Chakyar after a recital of poem that needed the rhythmic support.

When the Chakyar abruptly started reciting another lyric, having had no rhythmic response from the drummer looked back and found Kunchan Nambiar dozing. He not only woke him up but also ripped him down by humiliatingly sarcastic comments and jokes on his person. Nambiar hanged his head in shame and silently walked off.

Instead of crying over the incident in self-contempt, he sat through the whole night, with a vengeance, and wrote a poem depicting an episode from Mahabharatha in a never-to-fore metric and rhythmic pattern. He also devised a special kind of dance for its exposition.

The legend is that he presented it the very next evening at the same temple where he was humiliated on a different platform at the same time the Chakyar had begun. By the novelty, wittiness, and acridity of the programme he attracted all the audiences that had surrounded Chakyar to his show. It was the birth of a new art form that he named as “Ottanthullal“.


Koodiyattam is a theater performed art a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, recognized by UNESCO. The Sanskrit drama of Kutiyattam presented in the traditional style in temple theaters of Kerala with musical instruments.


The literal meaning of the title being concomitant dancing, it is another temple opera performed jointly by Chakyars and Nambiars.

A dance traditionally enacted in temples. it is Kathakali’s 2000 year old predecessor and is offered as a votive offering to the deity.Both men and women partake in this performance. Abhinaya is the most important element in Koodiyattom.The texts are always in Sanskrit and the performance is a prolonged affair. All the four types of abhinaya, viz. Angikam, Vachikam, Sathvikam and Aharyam are fully utilized in Koodiyattom.

The plays are performed only in temple precincts as votive offerings. Abhinaya or acting is a three -fold or even four-fold process. Appropriate hand gestures are symbols are first shown when the words of the verse are spoken in a typically modulated tone. As the music is begun, the meaning of the words are translated into a language of bodily postures, attitudes and facial expressions.


Theyyam is a ritual art form popular in north Kerala in Malabar region. The performers of Theyyam generally performed in front of the village shrine with dancer along with the drummers.


Originated in North Kerala, Theyyam is a famous ritual and art form which personifies legendary stories. Theyyam is the prominent ritual art form of the Kingdom of Cannanore aka Kolathunadu. Collaborating mime, dance, music, and dance, Theyyam unfolds the stories in the past and drags the spectators to a different world, unveiling the pasts and stories of the ancient times. Theyyam is of different types and there are around 400 Theyyams, each defined with its own style, music, and choreography.

Among the different varieties of Theyyams, the most famous ones are Raktha Chamundi, Muchilottu, Kari Chamundi, Bhagavathi, Gulikan, Wayanadu Kulaven, and Pottan. The musical instruments used in this magnanimous art forms are Chenda, Kurumkuzhal, Elathalam, and Veekkuchenda. From time immemorial, dance ceremonies were done to worship the ancestral heroes and spirits. It is why Theyyam has grown to be an inevitable part of the lives of a certain population.


Padayani is a ceremonial and traditional folk dance and a ritual art performed in Bhagavati temples of Kerala. Patayani and Theyyam ritual dance are very similar in fashin but different in version that also involves ancient martial arts.


It is a ritual art form performed at Bhadrakali temples located on the banks of river Pampa. According to mythology, this ritualistic dance commemorates the dance performed by Lord Shiva and the other Gods to appease Goddess Durga, whose anger could not be quenched even after annihilating the demon, Darika.  Popular places where Padayani is performed are Kadammanitta, Kottangal, Othara, Kunnanthaanam and many other temples in south Kerala. 

Though traditionally, it lasted for nearly two weeks, now-a days, it is held for durations that are as short as a single day. Kolam thullal is the major portion of Padayani performance.  Kolam is a masque made by drawing images on the leaves of the arecanut palm. Wearing this Kolam, padayani dancer performs the ritual dance in devotion.


PuliKali is a folk art performed during the annual harvest festival of Onam to entertain people and to create awareness. Puli means Tiger and PuliKali is the play of the tigers on the theme of tiger hunting, practiced in Thrissur district of Kerala.


Pulikali also known as Kaduvaakali, is a folk art form of Kerala in which artists paint themselves with tiger stripes of yellow, red and black, and dance to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda. The main theme of the dance is tiger hunting, and its origins are attributed to Muslims soldiers. Though the dance is performed all over Kerala during Onam, it has special significance in Palakkad and Thrissur districts. In Thrissur more than 800 people dressed as tigers from the neighbouring 14 village areas in the district, participate in the event held on the fourth day of Onam. 

The origin of Pulikali dates back to over 200 years, when the King Ramavarma is said to have introduced the folk art during Muharram. Mohemeddan soldiers of the British army stationed in Thrissur in the Pattalam (army) area used to celebrate Muharram with great fervor. Along with the celebrations, they used to perform the art form decked as tigers  with peculiar steps resembling the tiger, then known as ‘Pulikkettikali‘ which was immensely enjoyed by the locals. Pulikali in Trichur is held in memory of this event.


Kalaripayattu is a battlefield and combat art form, originated in Kerala and practiced in northern and central parts of the state. Kalaripayattu martial art is one of the oldest surviving fighting systems in the world and famous for its attacking and defensive patterns.


Kalaripayattu includes strikes, kicks, grappling, preset forms, weaponry and healing methods. Regional variants are classified according to geographical position in Kerala; these are the Northern style from Malabar region in north Kerala practiced by the Central style from inner Kerala and the southern style from Thiruvitankoor. Northern Kalarippayattu is based on elegant and flexible movements, evasions, jumps and weapons training, while the southern “Adi Murai” style primarily follows the hard impact based techniques with priority on empty hand fighting and pressure point strikes. Both systems make use of internal and external concepts. The fighters who used to fight with this technique never used body armors as it became more complicated to flex after using armor.

Some of the flexibility training methods in northern Kalaripayattu are applied in Keralan dance formsand Kathakali dancers who knew martial arts were believed to be markedly better than the other performers. Some traditional Indian dance schools still incorporate Kalaripayattu as part of their exercise regimen


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