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Great Classical Dances of Kerala, India

Kumar Paral is a writer, a culture enthusiast, and a bibliophile.

Kerala, a southern state of India, has a very long history of culture and civilization. The historical records corroborate the fact that various art forms – classical, folk as well as tribal – had evolved in Kerala in very ancient period. The basic elements of many of the art forms are related with the great art and cultural tradition of India. Barata's Natya Sastra, a treatise on stage performance, which systematized the classical art forms, has influenced the classical dances and dramas of Kerala.

The classical dances and dramas were encouraged by the feudal lords during the middle ages. But when feudalism lost its ground for democratic polity, the classical arts neglected and deteriorated for a long period. Many of the classical art forms were disappeared for ever.

The classical arts had a rebirth in the post independent period as a number of famous artists and writers began to encourage them and supported them. Vallathol Narayana Menon was such a great man who spent much of his life for the encouragement classical arts of Kerala. Vallathol established Kerala Kalamandalam to teach, popularise and preserve the classical arts for the coming generations.


Kathakali is an ancient dance - drama of Kerala. It is so appealing due to the rare synthesis of dance, drama, music, acting, percussion, mythology, and culture. It is evolved from folk arts and other earlier classical dances of Kerala. The most important fact about Kathakali is that the actors do not speak on the stage, but uses body movements, hand signs, gestures and postures for communication. Kathakali is very difficult art form to master and for the students learn it by practising it for ten years in gurukula system. It take long years of practice to be renowned as an master artist.


Kooth is performed by the members of the professional Chakyar caste and that too only in Koothambalam of temples. It is one of the oldest of theatrical arts not only of Kerala, but of India also. The movements, facial expressions, the signs and gestures are employed by the actor in Koothu. It is closely follows the principles laid down in the authoritative Sanskrit treatise on the subject, Bharatha's Natya Sastra.


Koodiyattam, one of the well known classical dance dramas,was originated 2000 years ago in Kerala. It is believed that the history of drama of Kerala began with Koodiyattam. It was performed in the Koothambalams of temples- the place of worship of Hindus. The members of Chakyar Caste were the actors in the beginning, but now, there is no such restrictions. Famous Sanskrit works are used for Koodiyattam performance. One of the wonderful fact about it is that women also participated in it and shares equal status with men in the performance. The meaning of Koodiyattam is “dancing together ”. All the four types of abinaya, angikaram, vachikam, sathvikam and aharyam are fully utilised in Koodiyattam.


Ramanatom is a dance drama based on the life of Rama who is considered as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is performed as an eight - day cycle. It can be considered as the proto type of Kathakali in many aspects. The legends say that the origin of Ramanattom was rooted in the rivalry between the Zamorin, The ruler of Kozhikode and Raja (Ruler) of Kottarakara.

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Seethankan Thullal

Seethankan Thullal


Thullal is a classical dance of Kerala which is simple compared to other classical dance forms. Kunchan Nambiar, one of the famous ancient Malayalam poet, introduced it in the present form. There are three types of thullal; Ottan, Seethankan and Parayan. The difference occurs in costumes, make up and mode of presentation. It can be said that it is a “Kathakali” for common man as it is very easy to enjoy due to lack of complex system of procedures for performance as well as strict adherence to the classical rules of dance and drama. Social criticism, use of simple language, wit and humour are the most appealing features of Thullal.


Chavittunatakom is dance related to Christian community in Kerala. It blends the eastern and western tradition of art and culture. This art form uses the stories from the Bible and legends about the life of Christian saints. Chavittunatakom shows the influence of folk and classical dance tradition of Kerala.

Ashtapadi Attam

Astapadi Attom is one of the extinct classical dance of Kerala. The popular dance drama was based on the life of Lord Krishna as described in the Gita Govinda, a great poem written by Jayadeva. The Gita Govinda is also known as Ashtapadi and Astapadi Attom means dance based on Gita Govinda. The main characters are Krishna, Radha and three supporting women characters. Chenda, Maddalam, Elathalam and Chengala are the instruments used in Astapadi Attom.


Mohiniyattom, which is also known as “Kerala Nadanam”, is a unique dance form of recent origin. The influence of Kathakali and Bharata Natyam are very much evident in it. In the beginning, it was performed by women, but now it was performed by man also. Mohini means” temptress” and Mohiniyattom means “the dance of Temptress”.


Patakam is based on ancient works of Sanskrit Literature. It is similar to Koothu in many features, but the acting has been given up in it and through narration using alternative prose and song sequences, and gestures the story is presented. Patakam is less expensive compared to other classical dance performances and so performed even in small events.


Krishnanattom is a dance drama based on the life of Lord Krishna. It is performed in an eight - day cycle. Krishnanattom still survives due to the encouragement of Guruvayur Temple where it is an offering to the deity. Maddalam, Elathalam and Chengala are the musical instruments used in Krishnanattom.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Kumar Paral


xyz on October 29, 2015:

need more ! need to improve !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seiboi Misao from India on August 12, 2013:

Great and interesting dance...

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