Performing Arts of Kerala

Kerala boasts of a long tradition of performing and ritual arts. These art forms impart Kerala its own unique character and makes up its essence. Religious and social history contributes in the origin of these arts and thus makes them a part of the social life of an average Malayali. The performing and ritual arts of Kerala are very much a part of the religious Festivals and social events such as marriages, childbirth etc. These arts are handed down generation after generation. Maps Of India brings you complete information on the following performing arts in Kerala. Click on the following links for more information on each of them:

The themes of these art forms are generally religious. Hence they tug the heartstrings of the common man. Traditionally these art forms were performed in temples or in social gatherings such as marriages, Festivals like Onam and Thiruvatirai etc. Some of these performances were night long events and hence led to social bonding and interaction. Many of these arts are dying out slowly, either due to the secrecy maintained in olden days, with regard to imparting them or due to a lack of interest and initiative on the part of the younger generations to learn these and keep them alive. The Government and other cultural organizations are working hard to keep the performing arts of Kerala thriving. Competitions are held, artists are provided for with pension and the artistry generally encouraged.

Bharata Natyam is probably the most famous and the favorite dance form of South India. It is known for the graceful movements, the bold steps and the emphasis on facial and hand expressions. It is believed that Bharata Natyam is so called due to its emphasis on Bha (Bhava), Ra (Raaga) and Ta (Taala). Also many believe that since Sage Bharata, author of Natya Shastra, a comprehensive treatise on the dance for, Bharata Natyam, learnt it from the celestial nymphs and taught it to the mortals, it is known as Bharata Natyam. Some say that this dance form is the 5th veda created by Brahma and passed down to Sage Bharata. It thus derives its pathya (words) form Rigveda, abhinaya (expression) from Yajurveda, geeta (music) from Samaveda and rasa (emotions) from Atharvaveda. There are many myths and legends about its origin. However history records that this dance form was reserved and handed down generation after generation by the Devadasis or the temple dancers. The performed the Bharata Natyam on all festivals and other occasions in the temple courtyards. With the decline in the Devdasi system, the interest in the dance started to wane. It was then that activists such as Krishna Iyer, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Balasaraswathi and Anne Besant resurrected the art and brought it to the spotlight. The art then slowly evolved to its present form and stage performances were applauded. Bharatanatyam was consistently regulated by the 'Thanjavoor Brothers', Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Sivanandam and Vativelu who compiled the songs and regularized the dance sequences.

Kathaprasangam may have been derived from Tanjore's story telling style in which tales from the Ramayana are recounted or the art may have been called Kathaprasangam simply because it is a form of story exposition. Whatever the reasons for such a nomenclature, the style, content and tradition of Kathaprasangam is entirely Keralan in its essence. Kathaprasangam is different from the Patakam and Harikatha in its very purpose. While the later attempt at spreading Bhakti (devotion) and the audience is essentially the devout Hindu, Kathaprasaam is completely secular in its outlook. The attempt is to create cognizance of the Malayalam language and its growing literature on the one hand and promote the need for social reforms and an anti dogmatic outlook. Thus the audience too was not necessarily Hindu.

Pulikali is a traditional performing art. Pulikali literally means "play of the tigers" in Malayalam. It is part of the Onam festivities (Thiruvonam) and is generally performed on the fourth day of the Onam festival. Pulikali is rather popular in Palakkad and Thrissur districts and not that favored in others. It is also known as Kaduvakali. Pulikali is a highly colorful and entertaining folk art and is enjoyed by old and young alike due to the fervor it elicits.
On this day, Pulikali troupes from various parts of the district assemble in Thrissur city (Swaraj Grounds) and perform. A sort of a contest develops with the cheering crowds deciding which troupe they like best.
In Pulakali a group of performers(usually around 6 people who make up the troupe), have their bodies painted in the colors and patterns of a tiger, don tiger masks and perform a wild dance symbolizing the hunting rituals on a tiger hunt. The hunter and drummer play their parts realistically as the tiger guised men prance and leap ferociously. The play includes realistic scenes such as the tiger catching the goat, offered as bait and then the hunter capturing the tiger and so on.

Last Updated on : 23/07/2013