Art and Culture of Kerala

Kerala has a rich tradition and cultural heritage that date back quite a few centuries. The rich repertoire of the various dance forms and music of Kerala is the most cogent evidence of this richness. Throughout History, dance and music have always been very important aspects of all social functions as also festivals of Kerala. Despite modernization and all the changes that come with it, the tradition and culture of the state and its various art forms are still preserved.Kathakali which is made up of two words “katha” meaning “story” and “kali” which means “play”. So Kathakali literally means story play. It is traditional dance form of Kerala and is generally performed at temples after dusk and continues through the night till dawn. The singers sing and vocalize the script of the story which is acted out by the dancers through their facial expressions otherwise known as “Mughabhinaya” and hand movements or “Mudras.” The dancer thus expresses himself through these highly complicated and scientifically ordered mudras and dance steps

Kathakali is heralded by the “Kelikottu” or drums accompanied by the gong. This dance form dates back to about 300 years. The themes for the dances are taken from the stories of the Great Epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as also the Puranas. Kathakali is a combination of the facets of ballet, opera, masque, as well as pantomime.The costumes and the makeup of the dancers are known as Veshams. There are specific colors used to portray different characters. Green is used to portray the noble protagonist, red is for evil characters and witches are shown in black makeup. The pomp and magnificence of Kathakali is partially due to its costume. The Kireedom or the head dress, the kanchukam or the over sized jackets and the long skirt worn over a thick padding of cushions all serve to subjugate the identity of the dancer and bestow on him a larger than life super human being aura. .

Mohiniyattam which is generally known as the dance of the enchantress is another classical dance form of Kerala. The dress for this dance is the traditional cream and gold sari with a blouse of the same color, with jewelry to match. The makeup is not as heavy as in Kathakali. Slow and graceful swaying movements of the body and the limbs as also the highly emotive hand and eye gestures are the hallmark of Mohiniyattam.Thiruvathirakali or Kaikottikali is a dance form that is performed by the young girls and women of Kerala. The dance is a celebration of female energy. The dancers perform in a circle around a pedestal lamp or a “Nilavilaku.” The sinuous movements that follow a pirouetting pattern along with the clapping of hands and singing is an embodiment of “lasya” or amorous feminine charm. The dancers are attired in the traditional Mundu and Neriyathu. Margamkali is similar to Thiruvathirakali and is essentially a Christian dance form in Kerala. The dancers are attired in the traditional white mundu and chatta (jacket) with traditional jewelry. They sing songs in praise of Lord Jesus as they dance around a Nilavilaku.

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