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Kerala: Dance and Music

Posted by mullookkaaran on August 22, 2009


Kerala has a rich heritage of art. It is the land of Kathakali, a form of dance drama. The classical dance-drama is a complete art form and unique in the world. Vivid in mudras (hand-sighns), realistic in gesture, rhythmic in movement, archaic in costumes, majestic in head gear, weird in makeup, taxanomic in music – make the Kathakali distinct. This is the only style in India in which the masculine aspect of dance is preserved in its elemental vigor. Kathakali is performed at important temple festivals and other community rejoicing. Kathakali draws its themes from the epics and mythology of India – the lives, love and conflict of Gods and supermen; the message is the victory of good over evil. Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthi is a world acclaimed center for training in Kathakali.


Theyyam is a popular ritualistic dance form of north Kerala. The word theyyam is daivam or God. Theyyam is performed with traditional rituals and costumes. The costumes used for theyyam I colorful and the makeup is done using natural colors. Theyyam begins with a thottam ( song narrating the story of the theyyam ). The unique arty is patronized by almost all castes of the Hindu Community. Villagers believe that their will being is based on the will and pleasure of the Mother goddess. So they maintain village shrines and cult spots. First part of the theyyam dance is known as vellattam, which is performed without proper makeup or decorative costumes. The full makeup or costumes and head gear reflects high sense of aesthetics. Musical instruments played are Kerala’s own. The theyyam is always performed by men and they also appear decked up as women in exotic make up and costumes, sometimes horrific and furious. Some characters wear masks. Other make up contains painted designs on the face. The costume is elaborate and resplendent. It includes big head gear, made of tender palm leaves and cloth, which may have a height of 10 meter or more.


Koodiyattam is also a dance-drama, and when performed by more than2000 years old. It gained the recognition of the UNESCO recently. Koodiyattam means joint-dance (koodi means jointly and attam means dance). It is performed by a particular community called Chakyar. The first phase of the performance is called Kooth and when performed by more than one person it is known as Koodiyattam. The perfect dramatic ingredients – action, dialogues, costume and passions are blended as per formal theories.


Ottanthullal is a solo dance exposition. Ottam is running and thullal is dance. This is more of the nature of a one-man Ballard opera. With simplicity in a presentation, outspoken wit and humour, thullal continues to be an art form of social criticism. Though the context dealt with is epic or mythologyc, the depiction will have direct appeal to the common life of contemporary society.


Mohiniyattam is an exclusive dance from of Kerala. Mohini is the charming woman and Attam is dance. As the name denotes it is a seductive dance performed by women, sensuous in appeal. Lyrical in the extreme. Its keynote is coquetry. In the rendering of this style there is enchantment, grace, delicacy and passion.


Kerala Natanam means Kerala dance. This is a modern dance form developed jointly by Guru Gopinath and an American lady named Ragini Devi in 1931. The four basic aspects of acting combined with musical instruments of Kerala and attractive aspects of Kathakali make Kerala natanam a unique art form. Great is the motion, sweet is the passion and attractive is the costume. The performer has to undergo four years coaching and two years stage experience. Dance training centers function in many places.


Kerala has a remarkable heritage of folk dances – social, religious and martial. The actions, expressions, costumes, ornaments and instruments are highly appealing. There are more than fifty well known folk dance forms in Kerala. Most popular are Kolamthullal, Kaliyattam, Mudiyettu, Kolkkali, poorakkali, Velakali, Kannyarkali, Parichamuttukali, Thappukali, Kakkarasi, Kummi etc.


The folk music of Kerala is rich with rugged beauty, rhyme and rhythm. Some of the song are devotional like Sarppam Pattu (serpant song), Bhadrakali Pattu (Bhadrakali is a goddness) and Ayyappan Pattu (Ayyappan is a god).

In the classical school, Karnatic music popular in Kerala, but the distinctive style developed here is ‘Sopanam’. This is a fusion of the symphonies of the great composer of classical music, Swathi Thirunal ( King of Travancore, early 19th century) and those of great composers like irayimman thampy, Shadkala Govinda Marar etc.


Kerala has a variety of its own musical instruments – percussion, wind and string. Chenda, the Kerala drum, is a remarkable instrument. There is a saying in Malayalam that ‘all the eighteen instruments are under the chenda’. Chendamelam – the playing of chendas – is inspiring and exhilarating. It is an inevitable item in any festive occasion – social cultural and religious. Panchavadhyam, Thayampaka, Nanthurni, etc. are the other varieties of instruments in vogue.


One Response to “Kerala: Dance and Music”

  1. Megha said

    I have to see many more possible varieties of the dances of Kerala… I have just seen the Kathakali till date.

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