Classical Dance Cultural In Kerala: An Essential Primer

Dance Beyond The Ayurveda Retreats, Houseboat Tours, And Fragrant Spice Plantations, Kerala Has Another, More Dynamic, Side To Share With Visitors.

Dance

On your next journey to the evocative South, make it your mission to discover classical dance in Kerala. Attend demonstrations, witness inspiring performances, and even sign up for a course, if you’re feeling bold. However you choose to take part, immersing yourself in Kerala’s rich cultural legacy is a must.

KATHAKALI

Combining classical dance, theatre, opera, and pantomime, Kathakali is a vibrant, utterly unforgettable Keralan art form. Though it was formalised in the 17th century, scholars suggest its origins in traditional religious ceremonies go back much further. Typically, Kathakali artists wear elaborate costumes, vibrant face paint, and sometimes masks. If you attend a performance, expect choreographed dances, emphatic facial expressions, complex gestures, and vocal and instrumental accompaniment. Should you wish to learn more, be sure to venture to the Kerala Kathakali Centre in Cochin, a cosy theatre where classical performances are presented (and handy translations of the original stories are also provided).

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MOHINIYATTAM

Eager to learn more about classical dance in Kerala? Attending a Mohiniyattam performance is a must. First developed in South India as a temple dance, Mohiniyattam has ancient roots. The dance form takes inspiration from Mohini—an enchantress avatar of Vishnu—and is meant to transmit the different forms of feminine love. The typical Mohiniyattam performance consists of a solo dancer performing elaborate choreography, often with the accompaniment of another vocalist. Today, performances are held across Kerala; if you’re hoping to acquaint yourself with this popular and beautiful tradition, you can also visit the Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi, which attracts students of dance from all over the world. 

NANGYAR KOOTHU

Kerala’s cultural traditions don’t just stretch back for hundreds of years, however—some have been around for millennia. Another female-led classical dance form in Kerala, Nangyar Koothu originated as an offshoot of Kutiyattam, which is the only surviving example of ancient Sanskrit theatre (and which has earned UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity status as a result). A dramatised dance form with religious origins, Nangyar Koothu is meant to depict episodes from the life of Lord Krishna, which are conveyed through precise choreography, gestures, and emotive facial expressions. Strong, percussive accompaniment is also a key element of Nangyar Koothu performances.

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KALARIPAYATTU

It may not strictly be a classical dance, but of all of Kerala’s rich and idiosyncratic cultural traditions, few are as dynamic—or as thrilling to watch—as Kalaripayattu. An ancient martial art form that’s thought to be the first in the world, its origins point to traditional modes of warfare. Participants—often equipped with swords, daggers, shields, and wooden weapons—leap through the air in twining forms, and lunge and feint acrobatically. A number of hotels in Kerala host their own performances of Kalaripayattu, so it couldn’t be simpler to get a taste of this unique tradition.

Theyyam in Kerala -A Unique Dance of Gods

Kerala is the home to the most beautiful and incredible art forms that are legendary. Art forms talk of culture, history, traditions, man, his religion, etc. Kerala has a few art forms which are really captivating and are incredible sights. The majestic experience of the art forms leaves viewers speechless as it not only attracts them but also makes them glued to their positions. One of the main art forms in Kerala is Theyyam, an incredible art form that takes you down the lane. Theyyam is an art form practiced only in Kerala and that too in a select part of its Northern Districts of Kannur, Kasragode and Calicut.

Theyyam
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.

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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.
Adorned with flamboyant costumes and heavy makeup, artists have a striking look that catches the attention of the spectators. The ornaments, headgear, and choreography are majestic and strong that it creates an atmosphere of wonder, fear, and awe. With rigorous moves and sounds, certain Theyyams also include blood sacrifices. This ritual art form brings out a completely different shade of culture and beliefs. Theyyam is prominent in the northern parts of Kerala and are performed in the temples of Kasargod and Kannur. Theyyam draws in huge crowds and the applause earned is wilder than that of a concert. But more than the applause the impact it creates on people is what is highlighting.
What makes Theyyam remarkable

Theyyam is not just an art or dance form or a ritual but it is a possessed performance; the performer or the artist is processed by the spirit of God and does the unexpected and unbelievable. Once Theyyam is done, it is meant to bring peace and prosperity to the people. It is believed that calling out to God and God answering them will remove all the hazards in their lives.

It is an ancient dance form and a precursor to the more stylised and less vigorous Kathakali. Steeped in ancient history it is a wonderful mix of the ethnographic influences in the state of Kerala. The Theyyam performances are held in clan groups and all the members get their resources together and have it conducted year after year within a dwindling availibilty of money and the exaggerated moral responsibility of keeping the traditions alive for their ancestors and their family names.

Theyyam talks about tales convey messages and put forth eye-popping acts but it is not a performance for the sake of entertainment. It creates a greater reality and takes the viewers to another space. This mythological play is a wonder striking ritual that drags people from every corner of the world to Kerala.

Assuming the form of God, man appeases them and it is believed that in return of this ritual, God guarantees them prosperity and peace to the society. The communities who perform belong are Malayan, Vannan, Mavilan, Munnoottan, Velan, Pulayar, Kopalar, and Anjunnoottan, etc.

Gods & Deities associated with Theyyam

Muchilot Bhagavathi, Kannankattu Bhagavati, Raktha Chamundi, Madayil Chamundi, Vishnumoorthi, Kundora Chamundi, Puliyoor Kali, and Puliyoor Kannan are the common deities of the ritual art form. Though there are different deities associated with the act, Muchilot Bhagavati is the chief goddess. Each deity has a different story to narrate.

Theyyam Performance

Theyyam is generally performed in front of the village shrine and does not have a particular stage or curtains; It is out in the open. The devotees and the gathering or the crowd are spread around the performance or seated in the tree nearby.

Theyyam1

Performances of the different deities are performed for about 12 to 24 hours with certain intervals. The dancers and the drummers recite the song and there is a huge clash of colors and voices that keep the viewers glued to their positions. IT is not just a clam performance, but one with vigor and passion.

The face paintings are diverse and some of the patterns are Prazkkezhuthu, Kattaram, Vairadelam, Kottumpurikam, and Kozhipushpam. The contrasting colors and their saturation gives life to the performer. We can see a whole new person not just because of the performance but also because of the looks they have. The looks have a deepening effect on the performance. The peculiar makeup, the loud voices, the striking music, and the energetic performance of the artist wins hearts and also the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses.

Attractions of Theyyam

From peculiar makeup to blood sacrifices, everything about Theyyam grabs attention and keeps viewers rooted to their positions. This ritualistic art form is not just another tourist attraction but a devoted act done to please the Gods. The ritual is believed to bring in the best of times for the devotees and that the Gods will clear them off all their hurdles and dangers.

The act is sometimes not believable to the eyes, as there are fire and bloodshed. The one possessed does the unimaginable. Jumping into the fire, hurting oneself with swords; there is a greater emotion than just a dance performance. This ritualistic art leaves the spectators spellbound and that is why it is a major attraction in the North Malabar.

People from all over the world come to witness this majestic performance of Theyyam because of the cultural richness it upholds. Documentaries, movies, articles, so much have covered the importance and beauty of Theyyam. Most people have also turned their lives to this incredible performance that they have become Theyyam artists.

Ultimately it is an economic issue whether this great dance form will survive or not.. The Theyyam dances are performed by distinct caste and communities and it is they who will over a period of time decide whether they would continue to perform the dances or better opportunities and employment will take them elsewhere. The Theyyam celebrations are expensive affairs and it is a tough job for the vast majority of the clans to keep it going.

The courageous believers are all set to perform Theyam not to please the viewers or devotees but to please his Lord, to please the One who has granted him life. Theyyam is a feeling. It is a feeling of the community to their Gods. It is a feeling that brings together different sects of people. It is a feeling that binds one believe – the supernatural.