Dance and Theatre
With about 35 different types of tribal people in Kerala, tribal dances like elelakkaradi, paniyarkali and mankali still survive. Of over 50 folk dances in Kerala, the popular ones are Kaliyattom, Kolam Thullal, kolkali, Velakali and kaikottikali. All these are performed in accompaniment of songs and drumming and often in colourful ornamental costumes. From these arose Kerala's classical dances like koothu, kathakali, mohiniattom and patokom.
Kathakali uses vivid and eloquent mudras (hand signs). A visually powerful art form, the Kathakali dance dramas are based on stories from the two great indian epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It is said to have evolved from a rivalry between two princely families. One had written a story cycle revolving around the life of Krishna, called Krishnattam, the other around the life of Rama called Ramattam. Thullal is a solo dance, a kind of a one man ballad opera, presented simply and laced with wit and humour.Ottam Thullal is said to have originated with the Poet Kunjan Nambiar. Mohiniattom which literally means "the dance of the enchantress", is sensuous and lyrical. Dancers display grace as well as passion. The chavittu natakam originated with the portugese missionaries as an alternative to kathakali. Patterned on the lines of european opera and ballet, it tells the stories of christian saints and heroes. Not only do the dancers sing and recite, they literally stomp their feet on the wooden dance floor.
The martial arts of Kerala - Kalaripayattu - consists of a series of intricate movements that train the body and mind. The discipline is continually practised and complemented by the Kerala's famous ayurvedic and nature cure techniques.These are believed to have travelled to eastern China, where they inspired the evolution of other martial art forms. 'Verumkai' is the final and most difficult of lessons taught in the kalari. The others are Maithozhil - combat through kicks, Kolathiri - combat using sticks and Angathiri - the use of metal weapons.
Painting in Kerala can be traced back to the 9th century, as evident from the murals in it's temples and the practice of Kalamezhuthu - the practice of drawing pictures of gods and goddesses on temple floors using five different types of colour powder.Raja Ravi Varma's numerous paintings of gods and goddesses adorn calenders even today, earning him the ire, critics usually reserve for a calender artist who promoted kitsch.But several of his works are flawlessly executed and display a mature sense of colour. Modern painting continued in the work of outstanding talents like K.Madhava Menon and K.C.S.Panikkar.
As in the rest of India, carnatic music is the popular classical form, but Kerala's own contribution is the sopana style - slow in tempo and emotional. Kerala's folk music, on the other hand, is neither sophisticated nor refined, but it displays a strong sense of rythm and rhyme. The theme is usually devotional, as in Sarpa pattu, Bhadrakali pattu and Ayyappan Pattu. The most famous of kerala's music composers is Swati Thirunal, the Maharaja of Travancore in the early 19th century. Other contemporary composers were Irayimman Thampan and Shadkala Govinda Marar.
An old time industrial art is bell metal casting. One famous product is the Aranmula polished metal mirror, made of an alloy of copper and tin. In woodcraft, apart from the temple art tradition, kathakali models and accessories, weaving of mats, baskets, coir matting figure among it's handicraft. Since the ban on ivory trade, Kerala's ivory carvings, especially that of the snake boat are now made of buffalo horn.
is also known for it's jewellery. Designs range from the elaborate and exquisite
to the simple and functional.The Nagapadam or serpent-hood pendant was
originally used by Nair women. Namboodiri women wore the cherutali necklace
and Tamil Brahmin women, the oddiyanam waist-chain. Christian women
wore the Mekka Mothiram. Though relegated to history, contemporary
goldsmiths still draw inspiration from them for their designs.