AND CULTURE kERALA
is the only state in India that has such myriad forms
of performing arts that are grand spectacle of colors
and costumes. Kathakali, the pride of Kerala, is an art
form where music, dance and drama are incredibly synchronized.
Mohiniyattom, Ottanthullal, Koodiyattam, Chakiarkoothu,
Pathakam and Chavittunatakam, though lesser known to the
outside world are equally important art forms of Kerala.
Kathakali the classical dance form of Kerala,was originated
in Kerala 400 years ago. It took shape mainly
from Koodiyattam, Mohiniyattom, Chakyarkoothu,
Ashtapadyattom and Krishnanattom. A complete art,
Kathakali constitute 3 fine arts - abhinayam or
acting, nrityam or dancing and geetham or singing,
and is a pantomime in which the performing artiste
does not sing or speak. So music is a very essential
aspect of Kathakali and the bhagavathar or the
singer plays a key role in the staging of the
great poet Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon, the founder
of Kerala Kala Mandalam, gave Kathakali the look and
feel we see today. Kathakali is usually presented at
dusk in the premises of temples, sometimes continuously
for ten days, each night featuring an act of the play
and lasting till day break. Kathakali music belongs
to the Sopana category of music which is typical of
Kerala and is characteristically slow, strictly adhering
to the tala (rhythm) giving full scope for abhinaya
(acting).Instruments used include Chenda, Maddalam and
Ilathalam. The actors paint their faces vividly and
use different costumes depending on the kind of characters
they portray and according to that the "Vesha"
(costume) is mainly classified into four: Pacha(Sathwika,
the hero), Kathi(the villain), Minukku(for female characters)
and Thaadi. Kathakali, especially its verses and music
are an enormous contribution to Malayalam literature
and music. Aattakkatha, the literature part of Kathakali,
forms a separate division in Malayalam literature. Compared
to others Kathakali music is more involved and complex
clarifying the meanings of mudras or hand gestures,
describing the context and expressing the depth of emotions
enacted by the artiste.
||Mohiniyattam is a dance form said to have originated in Kerala.
It is closely related to Bharathanatyam of Tamil
Nadu, which was originally called 'Dasiyattam'.
Originated as the temple dance performed by Devadasis,
it portrays feminine love in its myriad forms -
carnal, devotional and maternal- with accent more
on Lasya and Bhava. In the main items Cholkettu,
Padavarnam and Padam, Mudras and facial expressions
are more important than
| the rhythmic
steps. Costumes and ornaments of Mohiniyattam have much
in common with female characters of Koodiyattam and Kathakali.
Once Mohiniyattam was performed only in Temples premises
and royal courts. The first reference to Mohiniyattam
is found in 'Vyavaharamala' composed by Mazhamangalam
Narayanan Namboodiri, of 16th century AD. Major contributions
to this art form were given by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal,
Irayimman Thampi and Kuttikunju Thankachi.
After Swathi Thirunal's period there was a downfall
of Mohiniyattam. It somehow degenerated into eroticism
to satisfy the Epicurean life of a few provincial satraps
and landlords. The renowned Malayalam poet Vallathol
revived it and gave it a status in modern times through
Kerala Kalamandalam which is presently doing its best
for the development and popularity of Mohiniyattam.
Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma (wife of famous Kathakali
artist, late Padmashree Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair)
and Chinnammu Amma are well known Mohiniyattam performers.
Among the present day artists Kalamandalam Sathyabhama,
Kalamandalam Kshemavathi, Bharathi Sivaji, Kanak Rele,
Sunanda Nair etc.. are well known artists. Smt. Kanak
Rele deserves a special mention as she is not a Malayalee.
She has established a Nritya Mahavidyalaya in Mumbai
to promote Mohiniyattam along with other dance forms.
Most of the component items of Mohiniyattam are similar
to Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi, though subtle differences
of style is obvious. The language used in the lyrics
is a pleasant mixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit, known
as Manipravalam. Formerly, the Padams were specially
composed to include only Sringararasa. Now a days artists
are using any classical or semi-classical compositions,
even from other language. The real beauty of Mohiniyattam
comes through only when mature ladies enact the romantic
padams specially written to present the Ashta Nayikas:
Swadheena Bharthruka, Khanditha, Abhisarika, Vipralabdha,
Kalahandtharitha, Vasakasajja, Proshithabharthruka,
The accompaniments for Mohiniyattam are Vocal, Veena,
Venu, Maddalam and Idakka. Other instruments are also
Compared most other dance forms, Mohiniyattam gives
more importance to gestural and facial acting. The Mudras
(hand gestures) are almost always same as those employed
in Kathakali. The artists try to enact the lyrics almost
in its entirety, like in Kathakali.
Sanskrit drama performed in Kerala, India, has been
recognised by UNESCO as a Human Heritage Art. Rightly
so. It is the oldest existing classical theatre
form in the entire world, having originated much
before Kathakali and most other theatrical forms.
It is considered to be at least 2000 years old.
Kulasekhara Varma Cheraman Perumal, an ancient King
of Kerala was known as the creator of Koodiyattam
in the present form. His book "Aattaprakaram"
describes various aspects
|about how to perform Koodiyattam.Till
date this is considered the most authoritative work on
the art form. The "grammar" of performance is
entirely based on the stipulations of "Natyashasthram"
by Bharatha Muni, the most authoritative book on the science
Koodiyattam is presented by "Chakyars" (a sub
caste of Kerala Hindus). The female roles went only to
"Nangyars" (Women of Nambiar caste). The name
'Koodiyattam' (combined dance form) came because it is
the combined performance of Chakkyar and Nangyar. The
only musical accompaniment used to be "Mizhav"
played by Nambiar men. Of late, Idakka also finds a place
solo dance exposition, the Thullal is of three types.
Its origin is attributed to Kunchan Nambiar, a veritable
genius and one of the foremost poets of Kerala. Though
based on classic principles of Natya Shastra the technique
of this art is not rigid. The songs, written in simple
Malayalam, frank to outspoken wit and humour, the simplicity
of presentation and the direct appeal to every day life
made Thullal very popular.
The instruments used in Thullal are the maddalam and the
cymbals. The cymbal player who tunes the rhythm, also
assists the actor dancer (Thullakaran) in singing.
In actual performance the cymbal player first sings the
invocation song when the dancer faces the orchestra and
does obeisance. After that, with his back still to the
audience the dancer does a slick flourish of step and
body movements. Then he turns to the audience and the
dance proper is begun. He first sings a verse and while
the lines are being repeated by his musical assistance,
he brings out the meaning through facial expressions,
hand gestures and bodily postures. The roles of the raconteur
and actor are perpetually interchanged with tremendous
aesthetic efforts. In one moment he is the narrator but
in the next he completely identifies himself with the
It is to the dance that prime importance is given in Thullal.
From the beginning to the end there is dance even though
it lacks much of variety. To compensate for the monotony,
sometimes the dancer executes some vigorous footsteps
and rhythmic movements of the body.
Thullal is classified into three different types. Ottan,
Seethankan and Parayan based on the difference in costume,
dance and also the metre and rhyme of the Thullal songs.
Of all Thullal dances the Ottan Thullal is the most popular.
The costume is peculiar and impressive. A long tape of
cloth of white and red colour is hooked around a waist
string to form a knee length skirt. A chest plate adorned
with various types of coloured beades, glass and tinsel
and ornaments is also used.Gaudily painted wooden ornaments
are worn at the wrist, and on the shoulders. Tinkling
bells are tied to the legs just above the calf. The face
is painted green, the lips are reddened and the eyes are
emphasised with black paint. The head -dress is colourfully
decorated. The metre and rhyme of the Ottam Thullal songs
are very fast, and the dance as such has a high tempo.
In Seethankan Thullal the metre and rhyme of the Thullal
songs are a bit more- slow than in Ottam Thullal and consequently
dance is also slower in tempo. The dancer uses similar
skirt as in Ottam Thullal. But the arms, wrists and head
are adorned with ornaments made of fresh tender coconut
fronds. There is no facial make up except darkening of
The Parayan Thullal is the slowest in tempo. Even the
stance of the dancer is different from the other two.
Here the dancer almost stands erect and explains the meaning
of the songs by gestures. There is very little of the
dance element or of action. The costume is also different.
A red, flowery clothe is worn around the waist. A crown
of black clothe adorns the head. Necklaces are used on
the chest. The face is painted with light yellow.
||Thiruvathirakali is a dance typical to Kerala performed by women
for everlasting marital bliss, on the Thiruvathira
asterism in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December/January).It
is observed as an occasion to celebrate womanhood.
Only girls and women perform this. They stand in
a circle dressed in traditional style and the dance
follows a circular pattern accompanied by clapping
and singing. There
|are songs called Thiruvaathirappattu
with a special rhythm. Most of these songs praise lords.
The dance is a celebration of marital chastity and female
energy, for this is what brought Kamadeva (of Indian mythology)
back to life after he was reduced to ashes by the ire
of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, one among the Trinity in
Indian mythology. The rituals involve chewing of 108 betel
leaves along with lime and grated arecanut, undergoing
fast and taking a dip in the village pond singing the
Thiruvathirappattu. The sinuous movements executed by
the dancers during Thiruvathirakali around a nilavilakku
embody lasya or the amorous charm and grace of the feminine.
Also known as Kaikottikkali it is an important entertainment
folk art of Malayalee women during Onam season.