Kathakali is the most popular sacred dance-drama of Kerala. Kathakali evolved across the last 400 years. This classical dance of Kerala requires lengthy and rigorous training to attain complete control of the body and a sensitivity to emotion so as to be able to render all its nuances through facial expressions and hand gestures. Kerala owes its transnational fame to this nearly 300 years old classical dance form which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime.
It is said to have evolved from other performing arts like Kootiyattam, Krishnanattam and Kalarippayattu. Kathakali explicates ideas and stories from the Indian epics and Puranas. Presented in the temple precincts after dusk falls Kathakali is heralded by the Kelikottu or the beating of drums in accompaniment of the Chengila (gong). The riches of a happy blending of colour, expressions, music, drama and dance is unparallelled in any other art form.
Literally meaning the dance of the celestial enchantress, this sensual dance form of Kerala, contains elements of Bharathanatyam as well as the classical and folk dances of Kerala. Mohiniyattam is usually performed as a solo dance and is very lyrical in its rendering.
Slow, graceful, swaying movements of the body and limbs and highly emotive eye and hand gestures are unique to this dance form. The simple, elegant gold-filigreed dress, in pure white or ivory, is akin to the traditional attire of the women of Kerala. The origin of Mohiniyattom is rooted in Hindu mythology. Once the ocean of milk was churned by the gods and demons to extract the elixir of life and immortality. The demons made away with this divine brew. Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the panicky gods and assumed the female form of an amorous celestial dame Mohini. Captivating the demons with her charms, Mohini stole the elixir from them and restored it to the gods. This dance was adopted by the Devadasi or temple dancers, hence also the name 'Dasiattam' which was very popular during the Chera reign from 9th to 12th century.
Thullal is a classical solo dance form, of Kerala, which comes closer to contemporary life, and is marked for its simplicity, wit and humour. Staged during temple festivals, the performer explicates the verses through expressive gestures. The themes are based on mythology. This satiric art form was introduced in the18th century by the renowned poet Kunchan Nambiar .
The make up, though simple, is very much akin to that of Kathakali. The Thullal dancer is supported by a singer who repeats the verses and is accompanied by an orchestra of mridangam or thoppi maddalam(percussions) and cymbals. There are three related forms of Thullal - Ottanthullal , Seethankanthullal and Parayanthullal - of which the first is the most popular. The three are distinguished by the costumes worn and the metre of the verses. Thullal is usually performed in the premises of temples during festivals and provides for thought and entertainment to the thousands of people who gather at these events
Koodiyattam is a dance traditionally enacted in temples. Koodiyattam is Kathakali's 2000 year old predecessor and is offered as a votive offering to the deity. Kootiyattam literally means "acting together". This is the earliest classical dramatic art form of Kerala. Based on Sage Bharatha's 'Natyasasthra' who lived in the second century, Kootiyattam evolved in the 9th century AD. Kootiyattam is enacted inside the temple theatre, there are two or more characters onstage at the same time, with the Chakkiars providing the male cast and the Nangiars playing the female roles. The Nangiars beat the cymbals and recite verses in Sanskrit, while in the background Nambiars play the Mizhavu, a large copper drum.
Vidushaka or the wise man, a figure parallel to the Fool in Shakespearean plays, enacts his role with the liberty to criticise anyone without fear. The costume of the jester sets him apart from the rest. The Kootiyattam performance lasts for several days ranging from 6 to 20 days. Themes are based on mythology.
The Koodal Manickyam temple at Irinjalakkuda and the Vadakkumnatha temple at Thrissur are the main centres where Kootiyattam is still performed annually. Ammannoor Madhava Chakkiar is an unrivalled maestro of this rare art.
Thiruvathirakali is a dance performed by women, in order to attain everlasting marital bliss, on Thiruvathira day in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December- January). The dance is a celebration of marital fidelity and the female energy, for this is what brought Kamadeva (the god of love) back to life after he was reduced to ashes by the ire of Lord Siva.
The sinuous movements executed by a group of dancers around a nilavilakku,embody 'lasya' or the amorous charm and grace of the feminine. The dance follows a circular, pirouetting pattern accompanied by clapping of the hands and singing. Today, Thiruvathirakali has become a popular dance form for all seasons.
A dance form essential to the wedding entertainment and festivities of the Malabar Muslims. Maidens and young female relatives sing and dance around the bride, clapping their hands. The songs of Mappilappattu, are first sung by the leader and are repeated by the chorus.
The themes are often teasing comments and innuendoes about the bride's anticipated nuptial bliss. Oppana is often presented as a stage item today
A folk art mainly of the agrarian classes, Kolkkali is a highly rhythmic dance with the dancers wielding short sticks. The rhythm of this dance is set by a harmonious synchronisation of the tapping of the feet to the striking of sticks. The movement is circular and the artists sing as they dance and strike the sticks in unison. Though the dancers break away to form different patterns, they never miss a beat. In Malabar, Kolkkali is more popular among Muslim men.
Duffmuttu is also known as Aravanamuttu. It is a group performance popular among the Muslims of Malabar. Duffmuttu is staged as a social event during festivals and nuptial ceremonies. The artistes beat on a quaint round percussion instrument called the Duffu, the leader of the group sings the lead, while the others form the chorus and move in circles. The songs are often tributes to martyrs, heroes and saints. Duffmuttu can be performed at any time of the day and has no fixed time limit.
A spectacle for both the scholar and the simple rustic. The visual effect is enhanced by varied and colourful facial make-up with larger-than-life-masks, made of light wood and cloth padding, for certain characters. The characters who do not wear masks have specific facial colours applied within the frame of a white chutti. The predominant colours used are dark green, flesh tint and deep rose. Most of the characters wear red vests and flowing 'Uthariyams'. The characters of Krishna, Arjuna and Garuda wear dark blue vests.
The traditional performance lasts for eight days and covers the whole span of Krishna's life from his birth to 'Swargarohanam' or ascension to the heavens. Orchestral accompaniments are Maddalam, Ilathalam andChengila. Krishnanattom, though boasting of a unique choreography, assumes more the nature of a Morality Play, seldom presuming to lay claim to the theatrical sophistry so integral to Kathakali and Kootiyattam