From the time of human settlement onwards the arts and culture of Kerala has attained a close kinship. Kerala has its own typical dance form which reflects the lifestyle and out look of its people. Invariably all the performing art forms and dances communicate a message to the audience. This communication is achieved through pure narration or story telling through songs and through intricate movements of body. The most popular of them are Kathakali, Mohiniyattom, Koodiyattam, and Theyyam.
Kathakali which literally means ‘storyplay’ is the most renowed artform of Kerala. The essence of Kathakali is “abhinaya” (expression). The make up and costume known as “Vesham” represents the basic personality of the character. In Kathakali the character never speaks or sings, but enact the story through hand j estures (mudras) and facial expressions. There are 24 mudras in Kathakali to express the 9 emotions (rasas) viz, serenity, wonder, kindness, love, valour, fear, contempt, loathing and anger.
The stage is bare, but for a lamp with singers and drummers standing on eitherside. The rhythem of the drum and style of singing suggest the mood of the drama.
There are a number of Kathakali centres across Kerala which have daily Kathakali shows. Many of the leading hotels/resorts arrange special Kathakali shows for their guests.
The new year according to the Malayalam Calender is an eve of great celebrations. Vishu falls in the month of April- May, the season of yellow cassia flower, in English calender. Vishu day is considered to be an auspecious day for new beginnings. The elders in the family give gifts to the younger once.
The attention shifts to Thrissur for Thrissur Pooram in the month of late April or early May. The main attractions of Thrissur Pooram is the long line of ornated elephants, colourfull umbrellas (Kudamattom), fire works (Vedikkettu) and high rising sound of the traditional percussion “ the Panchavadyam”.
Apart from this, Kerala offers festivals and fairs round the year. Few major ones are the Nishagandhi Dance festival, Food Festival (second week of February) Gramam - the Kerala village fair, Deepavali (October), Kalpathi Radholtsavam (November), Tourism week Celebration (Dec 26 to Jan 1st ) and Swathi Sangeethotsavam (Jan 27- Feb 2) and so on. Whatever you see or feel you will carry home the finest memories and moments from Kerala.
The Dance of the Enchantress - Mohiniyattam’s predominent expression is “lasya” (romance). Mohiniyattom is a solo event where the dancer stands dressed in saree with golden boarders. The hair is put up at the side of the head and adorned with Jasmine flowers. The movement of the dancer is purposefully slow and graceful with a myriad of facial expressions of romance. The back ground music is accompanied by drums and cymbals.
Kodiyattom was on the brink of disappearence. But recently UNESCO has given new life to this art form by declaring it as one of the “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangable Heritage of Humanity”. It is believed that this art form is more than 1800 years old. There is no written document for this art form and is handed over through generations orally.
Orginated in the Northern Kerala and still popular in that part of Kerala, Theyyam attracts the on looker merely by the dancer’s intricate costumes and paintings on the face.
Theyyam which is a corrupted form of the Devine, acts as a mediator between the God and the devotee. There are over 350 different types of Theyyams which are distinct form each other by their costumes, head dress etc..
Kalrippayattu is aptly called the “Mother of all Martial Arts”. This martial art which is evolved in North Kerala is one of the oldest and most comprehensive system of martial art.
The system can be classified into 4 disciplines. Maithozhil, Kolthari, Angathari and Verumkai. Maithozhil is a series of physical exercise meant for physical fitness, agility and stamina. The precise and measured movements of the body along with various kinds of kicks and punches are performed which can be applied in actual fight also.
Kolthari is the training to use kuruvadi or sticks against an opponent. It can be a muchan vati only 3 spans long or kettukari having a length of 12 spans. The students learn defensive and offensive practices with trusts and blocks. Otta is the last of Kolthari. Here learning is aimed at using the short wooden staff at vital points on the opponents body.
Angathari is the training to use more deadly weapons like dagger, sword, spear and shield. This is useful for the duals as well as during actual fights in a war. Use of Vadival, the short sword and Urumi, the very long flexible sword that can be used as a belt also are practiced.
Verumkai is the last discipline. Only bare hands are used. Hits at vital points (marmam) on the openents body with the hand or some times a single finger and a variety of holds and locks are practiced. Verumkai is the mostly deadly one and is taught only to students of impeccable character.
The study of “Marmams” or delicate part of the body where a mere touch can disable or kill the opponent is taught in the highest level .
The martial art also has its own medical system known as “Kalarichikitsa”. This Ayurveda based treatment is mainly used in case of bruises, fractures and dislocation of bones and joints.
Kerala has a number of folk music which is indegenous to this land. Vadakkan Pattukal (Northern Ballads), Mappilla Pattukal ( Popular among Mappilas of Malabar) and Vanchippattukal (Boat songs) are few among them.
Sopana Sangeetham is purly a style of music sung at the temples infront of the Sanctum Sanctorum. The instruments used are Edakka and Chengila.
This percussion music is created by 5 instruments (Pancha means Five - Vadyam means instument) and Sankh (conch). The five instruments are Sudha Maddalam, Komb, Edakka, Elathalam and Thimila. The Panchavadyam and its style will vary depending on the number of performers in each catagory of instrument. A full compliment of Panchavadyam can be witnessed during the Thrissur Pooram.
Kerala Kalamandalam is known world over for its Kathakali training centre. Apart from Kathakali, training in Mohiniyattom, Thullal, Koodiyattom and instrumental music are also imparted here. Visitors are allowed between 09.00 to 12.00 hrs and 15.00 to 17.00 hrs.
The world renowned institution was founded in 1930 by the famous Malayalam poet Vallathol Narayana Menon and his associate Manakkulam Mukunda Raja. The Kalamandalam spread over nine hecteres of land with its Kerala architectural style building is worth a visit.
Kerala has a very rich tradition in handicrafts that are handed down through generations. Aranmula metal mirror, still a master piece, is made of a secret alloy has no parallel in the world. Kathakali models in wood with size ranging from few inches to life size figures, Elephants in rose wood, replicas of Chinese fishing nets and snake boats with oarsmen, cane furniture, necklaces and door curtains made of sea shells and crafted jewellery are few examples of the rich handicraft tradition of this land. Kerala is also known for its gold jewellery. The design of jewellery is unique to each caste -like Nagapadam for Nair women, Cheruthali Necklace for Namboothiri women, Mekkamothiram for Christian women etc. Contemporary goldsmiths are coming up with new varities of designs drawing inspiration from the rich culture of this land.