The dance forms of Kerala have a rich legacy and have grown since ancient times to produce one of the most articulated systems of classical and folk dances in the world. Most of these have religious themes and almost all of the folk dances celebrate the various celebrations like the time of harvest and other Malayalam festivals. There are several dance forms that are exclusive to either men or women, while there are others that mandate the participation of both genders. The accompanying music and songs also has a varied tradition, where a full orchestra may be used in some dances while some, are performed using the time kept by the clapping of hands and the meter of the songs. A major part of the dance expression comes from the attire and it differs according to the community and the dance form. Some special dances that have peculiar themes also demand the use of some props.

Some 50 odd dances are practiced (including the classical and folk) in Kerala alone; dances like Kathakali, Mohiniyattom, Thiruvathirakali, Koothu, Thullal and so on are described briefly, below:


This is perhaps the principal classical dance of Kerala that combines the elements of theatre, music and pantomime with legendary and mythical themes.


This dance is believed to have several classical dances like Kuchipudi Odissi Bharathnatyam as its lineage. It is based on the Vedic legend of Mohini (a form of Shiva), with beautiful movements and exquisite costumes. Both, the Carnatic classical and the Malayalam folk music accompany the Mohiniyattam dances, making it part-folk, part-classical.


This dance has its roots during the first contact of the Aryans and the Dravidians in pre-historic times. Today this dance is considered sacred and performed in the outer cloisters of the temple, exclusively by the Chakyar community. The typical stage for temple performances called the Koothambalam is used. Dramatic effect and pure language with elegant gestures are the main characteristics.


Commonly called Thullal is a peculiar dance given its quirky elements. The dance is grounded in the principles expounded by Bharatamuni in his canon - Natya Shastra. Its movements and steps are short and simple and are performed sometimes solo, in the temple courtyards during the religious festivities. Another feature of the dances is the inclusion of social satires in the mythical subject matter.


The Koodiyattam dance is synonymous with the cultural identity of Kerala. It is the only surviving Sanskrit dramatic art in India. All the plays involve Vedic scenes written in Sanskrit and are performed exclusively by the Chakyar community. The Koothambalam is created inside the temples to serve as a stage for Koodiyattam performance.


Krishnanattam is derived from the Ashtapadiattom dances with folk elements like Mudiyattom, Theyyam and such dance forms. These influences are evident from the colorful makeup, clothes, special masks and crowns used in this dance. A legendary Krishna devotee known as Vilwamangalam, is believed to have designed the traditional costume of Krishna – the central character of Krishnayattam.


The Thiruvathirakali is exclusively performed by women of Kerala during the Dhanu month of the traditional year. The participants gather around and dance revolving around the centre called the ‘Vilakku’. The women keep singing ‘Thiruvathira pattu’ and clapping during the entire performance of the Thiruvathirakali dance.

Related Image


Related Topics

Music in kerala

The indigenous musical tradition of Kerala finds its roots in the music of the animalistic deities of the primitive ages....


Elephants hold a special place in Kerala. A part of the ‘Indian’ species of the three sub-species of the endangered....


Bagurumba is one of the traditional dances...


Bathakamma or Bathukamma is a Hindu...