Kerala is rich with about 35 different types of tribal people and tribal dances like Elelakkaradi, Paniyarkali and Mankali have managed to withstand the test of the changing times. The dances of Kerala can be divided into roughly three types - folk dances, dance dramas and semi-classical dances apart from the two most popular classical dance forms of Kathakali and Mohiniattam. Here, we have tried to cover almost all the popular dances of the region but the land is so full of myriad culture, tradition and rituals that only a visit to the place can reveal all its glory.
Out of 50 traditional folk dances that have survived, Kummi is perhaps
the most captivating with its continuously increasing pace and rhythm of
the song and the dance steps and the exciting advancement of the
complication of the dance steps that enchants the audience.
Tiruvathira dance is performed by maidens who revolve in a
circle while performing dance steps to the beat of rhythmic claps that
gives music to their graceful movements and the narrative song sung by
the dancers as they go round. One of the best example is the narrative
poetry based on the story of Shakuntala that Machatt Illyat wrote for
this dance in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Evolved from Kalaripayattu, a group dance developed by the
Syrian Christians of Kerala is known as Margamkali. The word
'Margam' means 'path' and it was indeed meant for the propagation of
Christian religious ideas. There is no music to accompany the prformance
and dancers sing themselves while playing in a circle around a lighted
oil lamp. The master, leader and tutor of the performance of the troupe
is known as 'Asan'. Since the language used by the characters is old
Tamil, which is not the language of the performers and the audience
(which is Malyalam), Asan remains on stage as the interpreter and leads
the song too for the group.
Kolkali has only slight differences when performed by
Christians, Muslims and and Harijans. A group dance performed in a
circle, choreographed in such a way that dancers make rhythmic beat with
short sticks in their hands. The steps are vibrant while songs consist
mostly of meaningless syllables followed by verses. The dance gains
tempo and pace as it advances. Only males participate in this dance and
require basic martial art training to perform its complicated steps.
Muslims of Kerala have specific dance forms of their own including Oppana
and Aravanmuttu. Performed by both men and women, Oppana is
accompanied by clapping of hands. Mainly performed in marriages, the
women perform in a circle and receive the bride while men stand aside
singing songs, ready to receive the bridegroom. However, the origin of
Aravana can be traced back to the Arabs and is still accompanied by
Arabic music. The instrument used to produce rhythm is called daf or
tap, a round percussion instrument with one side covered with hide.
Yatrakali is known by different names such as Samghakkali, Chattira
Ankam, Sastramkam, Kshatramkam or Panemkali.
An art of the Nambootiris, it originated when the Nambootiris were
persecuted under the rule of one of the Cheraman Perumals who accepted
the Buddhist faith as a mirror held against the artistic and social
sense of the region and the times. Elements of many popular forms of
dance and music were incorporated into this art either in their
transformed or real forms.
Ochirakali is held at a place called Ochira in Alleppey district
as a part of an annual festival where a mock fight is staged lasting for
two days to commemorate a battle fought between the kings of two feudal
principalities, Kayamkulam and Ambalapuzha. The fight takes place in
front of the Ochira temple that has no temple building or any image of
god or goddess. Each group advances in offence and retreats in defence
and the movements gain momentum and tempo as the show advances.
Chavittunatakam is a Christian dramatic form which was
introduced during the time of the Portuguese in Kerala in the16th
century A.D. 'Chavittu' means the rhythmic steps which accompanied the
recitation of lines. Inspited by the Western Opera type of theatre, the
themes, acting techniques, stage structure and plot treatment presented
were western while the texts were written in old Tamil.
Manavedan founded Krishnattam, a choreographed dance drama
based on Krishna's life while the Raja of Kottarakkara introduced Ramanattam,
play based on Ramayana. Ramanattam was performed in Manipravala style
and was performed by the Raja himself and his Nayar soldiers.
Semi Classical Dance:
The word 'Thullal' means dance and it emerged in the eighteenth
century. The cumulative product of all traditional folk and classical
theatrical arts of Kerala, it was founded by Kunchan Nambiar to
represent the accumulated aesthetic experience of all sections of the
society. The themes were drawn from the never failing myths and epics of
India. A solo performance, it is a tale narrated in verse. The full
painting of the face is retained for the expressive advantage. The
costume is picturesque. Based on different styles of narrative singing,
rhythms of dancing, foot work and make-up of the dancer, three varieties
of Thullal that were evolved in course of time are Ottan Thullal,
the most popular one, Seethankan Thullal and Parayan Thullal.
Koodiyattam emerged in the ninth century as a full-fledged
dramatic presentation in Sanskrit. The Vidushaka, the comic character,
was the only one character who spoke in Malayalam and was actually an
ironic foil to the hero. For the common people, a parallel tradition
emerged in the form of Pathakam, which was written in Malayalam
instead of in Sanskrit by Punam in the fifteenth century. Pana-Thottam
is another form of a similar recital. This tradition finally culminated
in the Thullal. Koodiyattom is a temple art and probably the only
surviving form of the traditional presentation of Sanskrit drama.
Nanniar Koothu is a dance form conducted in some prominent
Kerala temples by the womenfolk of Nambiar community, who are believed
to be the descendants of the Devadasis community, as a ceremonial
ritual. It is a solo dance based on the story of Sri Krishna.
A well-developed dance-drama, it is a performance where the actors
depict characters from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata and from
the Puranas (ancient scriptures). Adorned with elaborately painted
faces, headgears and grand costumes, the dancers are accompanied by
drummers and vocalists. Ritual traditions like Theyyams, Mudiyattam and
the martial arts of Kerala played a major role in shaping the dance into
its present form. The great poet Vallathol rediscovered Kathakali and
established the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1932.
Older than Kathakali, Mohiniyattam is the female semi-classical dance
form mainly performed in the temple precincts of Kerala. The dance of
the enchantress, Mohiniyattam is also the heir to Devadasi dance
heritage like Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi. The first reference
to Mohiniyattam is found in 'Vyavaharamala' composed by Mazhamangalam
Narayanan Namboodiri, assigned to the 16th century AD. Vallathol, a
poet, revived it and gave it a status in modern times. The theme of
Mohiniyattam is love and devotion to god. There are circular movements,
delicate footsteps and subtle expressions that include suggestive
'bhavas'. It maintains a realistic makeup and simple dressing. The
dancer is attired in the beautiful white and gold-bordered Kasavu saree