Kerala Dance Forms

By: Dev Sri

Centuries old Kerala Dance Forms are noted for the variety, youthfulness and charm. Some Kerala dance forms like Kathakali is world renowned, and a dance form Koodiyattom is recognized by UNESCO as human heritage art. All Kerala dance forms and dance forms of India are based on the instructions of 'NatyaSastra', the science of acting, which can be attributed to Sire Bharata who lived some 20 centuries ago. He described 'navarasangal' or the nine emotions viz. Sringaram (Love and seduction), Roudram (Aggressive), Hasyam (Humorous), Bhayanakam (Frightening), Veeram (Courage), Karuna (Compassion), Adbhutam (Wonder) and Shantam (Peace). Kerala dance forms seem to draw a narrow line between male and female performers.

The main dance forms of Kerala are:

Kathakali: This is divine dance form of Kerala, noted for the minute expression of emotions and colorful costumes. Kathakali is considered the art of Gods, and epical episodes are performed as a play. In earlier times it took many days for the completion of a play. Expression of emotions and narration is based on 'Mudras' or hand signals, and facial expression of navarasa, the nine emotions. Traditionally only men performed this Kerala dance form and they dressed like women for female characters usually Goddesses.

The costumes are heavy and it almost takes a full day to complete the make-up process. Characteristic masks, crowns and attire more than double the size of the performer.

Mohiniyattom: This Kerala dance form literally means the dance of an enchantress. Mohini means the women who tempts and Aattom means dance. Attired with white or ivory dress with golden borders, the dancer takes a majestic look. Mohiniyattom is noted for the slow movements and highly emotive eye gestures. The origin of Mohiniyattom is attributed to Lord Vishnu, who impersonated as Mohini (an enchanting woman) to seduce Asuras and take back Amrit, the medicine that gives immortality from them.

Mohiniyattom was performed in Kerala temples and palaces of Kerala.

Koothu (Chakyar Koothu): This Kerala dance form is performed only in selected place called Koothambalam associated with Kerala temples. Koothu in Malayalam means dance. Only members of the 'Chakyar' caste perform this.

Koodiyattam: This dance form of Kerala is the oldest of its kind and was evolved in the seventh century AD. It is an offering to deity. Mythological themes are played.

Theyyam: There are more than 300 variations for this Kerala dance form, which is characterized by the praising of Goddess for her victory over evil forces. Female roles are also handled by men, who wear colorful ritual attire for performing this temple dance form. The headgear and attire are both colorful and attractive.

Thiruvathira or ThiruvathiraKali. This is a dance performed by women on Thiruvathira day of the Malayalam month, Dhanu. Eight to 12 women of any age circles around a 'nilavilakku', a traditional oil lamp with many wicks, for Thiruvathira Dancing. It is believed to bring blessings to their family life.

The Myth Behind this unique Kerala Dance Form:
Rathi Devi, Goddess of love regained the life of Kamadeva, the God of Love who was charred to ashes by the fearsome anger of Lord Shiva. Rathi Devi successfully made a case with Lord Shiva to give Kamadeva his life. Thus ThiruvathiraKali represents the fidelity of marital relation and determination of female soul.

Oppana: This dance form is the peculiarity of Malabar Muslim weddings in Kerala. On the wedding day eve, friends and relatives (mainly young maidens) throng around the bride, clapping their hands and dancing to some nice music. The songs are usually called as Mappilappattu. Through the songs, the young women tease the bride and bless her for the happiness in her new life. Oppana is a performed as a stage item also.

Kolkali: This Kerala dance form belongs to the agrarian classes. Kolkali literally means playing with stick. Men bear short sticks on each hand. The dancers harmoniously move around in circles, form different combinations, dance and rhythmically strike two short sticks. This is an exclusive item for men.

Krishnanattom : Krishnanattom is almost an extinct dance form of Kerala. One dance is completed over eight days, and is characterized by rich colors, big masks, and thick facial make-ups. Krishanattom as the name suggests is the play on the life of Lord Sri Krishna. Krishnattom resembles Kathakali.

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