Know About the Traditional Dances of Kerala

The culture of a place can be acknowledged from its art and dance forms. Dances are considered as the integral parts of culture of any region. Kerala which is situated in the southern part of India and is popularly known as ‘God’s Own Country’ has several dance forms.

Among the many folk dances, some are native and have gained recognition only within the state whereas, some have gained popularity worldwide. Many of these dances are performed at the time of temple festivals and occasions.

These forms of dances are unique in their way of presentation with wonderful expressions, which are performed by finest dancers. The performers are adorned with attractive costumes and ornaments that add charm to the dance.

Kerala has around 50 forms of dances. Among these Theyyam, Thiruvathirakali, Chakyar Koothu Koodiyattam, and Ottamthullal are some of the prominent dances of Kerala. Kerala is therefore, popular for its two classical dance form ‘Kathakali’ and ‘Mohiniyattam,’ which lure tourists from world-wide. Travelogy India here provides you with some important information about the unique classical dance forms of Kerala.

1. Kathakali

Kathakali is an impressive form of classical dance originated more than 500 years ago in the southern state of Kerala. Kathakali is a perfect combination of dance, drama, music and religious theme. Kathakali is considered as one of the world’s oldest forms of theatre. In Malayalam (the local language of Kerala), Kathakali means Story-Play, “Katha-Story” and “Kali-Play”.

Kathakali Dance Kerala

It will not be wrong to say that Kerala and Kathakali can be identified by each other’s name. Kathakali has been acknowledged throughout the world for its uniqueness. This dance form is generally performed by men.

This classical dance form is usually performed on the grounds of temple. Kathakali involves colorful costumes and detailed makeup. The costume is very typical that includes a headgear, swirled skirt and junk ornaments. Being dressed typically, the artists play the mythological characters from the Hindu epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The artists through their elegant body movements depict a scene from mythological stories.

A typical Kathakali Performance includes graceful movements of hands, legs and eyes. Props are also used in this dance, wherever necessary. A traditional drum, known as Chenda is played to accompany by one or two singers. These singers describe the story in their song. Travelogy India recommends you to spend an evening watching a Kathakali performance in Kerala.

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2. Mohiniyattam

A famous and sensual classical dance form of Kerala called Mohiniyattam involves graceful movements. This classical dance is performed by solo woman dancer, as the name itself says, Mohini means ‘a maiden’ and Yattam means ‘dance’. Mohiniyattam is a blend of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, as it uses the elements of these dances. This dance is very elegant as it has gentle and graceful movements along with mesmerizing eye movements.

mohiniyattam kerala dance
mohiniyattam kerala dance

Mohiniyattam was originated in 16th century CE. Mohiniyattam has been recognized as one among the eight Indian classical dances by the Sangeet Natak Akademi. It is believed that the Vaishnava devotees named the dance as “Mohiniattam”, which was earlier performed by Devadasis. According to legends, Lord Vishnu in disguise of a Mohini enthralled people.

Mohiniyattam involves delicate footsteps, classical Carnatic vocal music, mesmerizing expressions and sober costumes in white and gold. The dancer adorns her head by putting jasmine garland in a traditional way. Mohiniyattam is therefore, considered as an enchanting dance or the dance of enchantress.

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3. Thirvathirakali

It is a popular group dance performed during the harvest festival of Kerala, Onam. This dance is performed by women folk, moving in a circular movement, rhythmically at the Thiruvathira songs’ tune.

Thiruvathirakali kerala dance
Thiruvathirakali kerala dance

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4. Kolkali

It is performed by a group of 24 dancers from agrarian classes. This dance form is highly rhythmic. Wooden sticks are used as props by the dancers. They beat these sticks, while moving in a circular motion.

Kolkali Dance Kerala.

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5. Ottamthullal

This dance form was originated in the 18th century and has become a popular dance form of Kerala. It is said that famous Malayalam poet, Kalakkaththu Kunchan Nambiar created this dance form. Ottamthullal is a group dance performed wearing make-up and vibrant costumes. A dancer narrates a story based on mythology.

Ottamthullal dance kerala
Ottamthullal dance kerala

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6. Koodiyattam

Koodiyattam is a popular traditional dance form of Kerala. This dance form was being performed in the temples for centuries. The musical instruments involved in Koodiyattam are Kuzhitalam, Mizhavu, Sankhu and Kurumkuzhal.

Koodiyattam Dance Kerala
Koodiyattam Dance Kerala

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7. Chakyar Koothu

It is a highly refined ancient dance form of Kerala. The dancer narrates scenes from Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. During festivals and occasions, it is performed in the temples.

Chakyar Koothu Dance Kerala
Chakyar Koothu Dance Kerala

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8. Theyyam

A popular dance form of the Malabar region of Kerala is called Theyyam. Theyyam and its rituals have been in practice for thousands of years in this region. It is very popular as the lower caste people have access to it. It is a Dravidian art form and sacred ritual dance to worship Goddess Kaali. The word 'Theyyam' is said to be the corrupted form of 'Daivam', the Malayalam word, which means God.

Theyyam Dance at Onam
Theyyam Dance Kerala

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A trip to Kerala will help you explore and experience these unique dance forms that reflect the culture of the state. Be with us on a cultural tour of Kerala to get an ultimate experience and unforgettable memories to treasure.