Folk Dances of Kerala

Kerala is not just famous for its natural extravaganza in the form of beaches, valley and backwaters, but also for its literacy level and for preserving its traditional art and culture. Its uniqueness can be seen in the classical music and dance forms, the colorful costumes, the ballads, theatre, tribal dances and folk art forms. Even the crafts, wood-work and wall paintings are also preserving the skilled art forms of Kerala.

Kerala has almost fifty kinds of folk dance forms, all unique in their own special way. Some of them are Kanniyarkali, Kaliyattom, Kolkali, Kuravarkali, Thapukkali, Kolam thullal, Purakkali and Valakai. These dances reflect the the various facets of life and emotions which are expressed in the form of movements to the music beats. A group of trained musicians with traditional musical instruments lay down the intricate beats on which the twinkling feet tap. Some of the famous folk dance forms are elaborated below.

Theyyam or Kaliyattam is a very famous dance form, which includes days of practice before it is performed. The origin of the dance form is said to be in the northern part of the state. Elaborate make up and costumes are prepared for the dancers, especially the main character of the hero called Theyyam, the divine character. The whole dance form has a mythological relevance and is performed in almost all the temples of the villages as a ritual.

Kavadiyattam is another ritual dance form that takes place in the Subramanya Temples.It showcases dancers who have scented ashes all over their body and carry bow shaped wooden hangers called Kavadis that are decorated with colorful paper. The Ambalakavadi is decorated brilliantly as a temple representation with plastic flowers and paints. Udukku, Chenda and Nadaswaram are used as the musical instruments. The dancers merely dance to its tunes carrying the wooden hangers and enact a procession.

Thiruvathirakali is a traditional dance form associated with the joint families of Kerala. In this dance form, women dressed in white sarees with golden borders and hair decorated with white flower garlands called gajras, dance to the rhythms of Thiruvathira Pattu, elegantly and in a synchronized fashion.

Oppana is a wedding dance among the Muslim families of Kerala. In this dance form, the bride in full decoration, sits in the middle, as her friends and relatives merely sing and dance around her, while clapping their hands in chorus. It is conducted nowadays with full pomp and show, as the weddings nowadays have become grand. The songs include lyrics that actually teases the bride about her dreams of her husband and her new marital life.

Velakali is a more violent dance form, which represents soldiers with swords and shields, matching steps with the rhythmic beats of thakil, kuzhal and elathalam. Around fifty odd performers participate in the dance to create a war-like scene. The dance can either be dedicated to a worshiped idol or it can be performed in front of a temple pond.

Sarpattu is the snake dance performed in the Nagaraja temples of Kerala, who is revered as the Snake God. Women of the Pulluvar caste, dressed in colorful costumes, dance to the rhythms of Sarpattu and the tunes of Pulluvakudam, till they are breathless. The dance takes place in a decorated floor and pandal in front of the idol of Nagraja.

Ottamthullal is known as the folk version of Kathakali, which was developed by Kunchan Nambiar, a famous poet of the south. This dance form was especially created with a purpose, which was to communicate the people to fight against the stringent social-political structure of the society of that time. The dancers, dressed in elaborate costumes, perform a story with a message and develop it with their humor and expressions to keep the audience interested in the story.

So, when you plan your trip to Kerala, don’t miss out on these folk art forms that are carefully preserving the culture and tradition of the south.