Kerala > Performing arts

Arjuna Nritham

Arjuna nritham (the dance of Arjuna) is a ritual art performed by men in the Bhagavathy temples of Kottayam and Alleppey districts of Kerala. Arjuna, considered the most handsome of the Pandava brothers, was believed to have been trained in music and dance by the celestial nymphs. After the Kurukshetra war, it is said that he performed this dance to propitiate the goddess Bhadrakali.

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Chavittunatakam is a colourful Christian art form which is popular in the districts of Thrissur, Ernakulam and Alappuzha. Its origins are associated with the coming of the Portuguese, who wanted a cultural medium to propagate their religion and its stories. Collaborating with the Malayali scholars, they developed a new art form which is chavittunatakam.

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Duffmuttu is an art form practiced by the Muslims of the Malabar region of Kerala, as part of their social events, festivals and religious occasions.

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Kadavallur Anyonyam

Kadavallur Anyonyam, an annual debate of Vedic scholars from two schools of Rig Veda practice, is held at the Kadavallur Sree Rama temple on the border of Thrissur and Malappuram districts. It is the final examination of Vedic scholars from these institutions – the Thirunavaya Brahmaswam Math (once patronized by the Zamorin of Calicut) and the Thrissur Brahmaswam Math (earlier patronized by the Cochin kings). It is held in the Malayalam month of Vrischikam (mid Nov.).

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Kannyaarkali, also known as Desathukali, is a folk dance form exclusively practised by the Nair or equivalent community in parts of Palakkad district, Kerala. It originates from the martial arts practiced in the region which was under constant threat from attacks from neighbouring Konganadu. Dance and comedy were added to the rhythm, agility and grace of the martial arts giving rise to Kannyaarkali.

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Kummattikkali is a masked dance popular in South Malabar in Kerala, especially in Thrissur and Palakkad districts. During Onam, groups of Kummatti performers move from house to house entertaining the people and receiving gifts (in kind or cash) in return.

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Margamkali is a folk art performed by the Syrian Christian community of Kerala (especially the Knanaya sect), particularly in Kottayam and Thrissur districts. The word margam means path or religion. The theme of the margamkali performance is the activities and travels of Mar Thoma (St Thomas) in the Malabar region and his martyrdom.

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Mudiyettu is a 'ritual theatre' and dance drama performed in the four districts of Kerala, which earlier belonged to the princely state of Travancore and Cochin. It is associated with the Marar and Kuruppu communities of the area. Mudiyettu is a ritual theatre form of Kerala based on the mythological tale of the battle between Goddess Kali and Darika, an evil king. It is a community ritual in which the entire village participates. The ritual-theatre dance event that also involves drawings on the temple floor as well as chants and music.

Source IGNCA Inventory of ICH, Janapada Sampada Division, IGNCA

Contributed by Aditya, CEE Ahmedabad


Oppana is a dance form practised by Muslim women of the Malabar region of Kerala, especially the northern districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur. It usually forms part of the wedding festivities. The bride is decked in her bridal clothes and ornaments and is seated while her female friends and relatives, numbering around 15, sing songs and dance around her to the accompaniment of clapping and musical instruments like harmonium and tabla. A leader sings the songs and the rest act as the chorus. The dance is characterized by its simple but graceful steps. The theme of the songs, called mappilapattu, is the teasing of the bride about marital bliss, bridal aspirations and emotions.

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Parisakali, an art form of the Mappilas (Muslims) of Malabar area of Kerala, is a mock fight by boys. Short sticks and straw board shields are the weapons used in this mock fight. The performers used to learn this art form the gurukkal of kalaris (Kalaris are the training places where many subjects like medicine, astronomy, philosophy, yoga and martial arts are taught; the term is very commonly associated with the teaching of martial arts like kalaripayattu now) set up for this purpose. This tradition is similar to the learning of kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala.

This art form is almost extinct now.


Contributed by: Neethu, CEE Kannur Field Office


Patayani, which literally means 'rows of army/soldiers', is a weeklong ritual dance, held in many of the Bhadrakali temples on the banks of the Pamba river (chiefly Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha districts) during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Medam (March-April). The theme for the performance is the slaying of the demon Daarika by the goddess Kali.

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Pulikali or Kaduvakali (play of the tiger) is a folk art that forms part of the celebrations of the Onam festival in Kerala. This art form is mainly practiced in Thrissur district. Trained artistes prepare for the performance the day before by painting their bodies a bright yellow with red and black stripes, to resemble the tiger. They don a tiger mask to round off the costume.

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Revathi Pattathanam

Revathi Pattathanam is an annual assembly of scholars held at the Tali temple in Calicut, Kerala. The word pattathanam itself means bhatt sthanam or position of Bhatt, the title that was conferred on the winners.

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Tholpavakoothu (thol = skin, pava = doll/puppet, koothu = play) is a unique shadow puppet theatre form of Kerala, preserved as a family tradition by the community of Pulavars. Dedicated to the Bhagavathy, it is performed during January to May in specially constructed theatres called Koothu Madam in front of the Bhagavathy temple. The performance usually lasts the whole night and is both a popular entertainment and a religious offering. The puppet plays are based on the Kamba Ramayanam and the language used is a dialect of Tamil mixed with Sanskrit and Malayalam words. The belief is that the story of Ramayana is staged so that Bhagavathy (goddess) can watch the story, especially Rama's victory over Ravana, which she missed as she was herself busy fighting Darika.

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Velakali is a spectacular martial dance performed by Nair men in some of the temples of southern Kerala. Specifically, this is performed as part of the annual festivities of the Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna temple in Alappuzha district. The origin of Velakali itself is associated with Ambalapuzha, where Mathoor Panicker, the chief of the Chempakasseri army, promoted this dance to instill a martial spirit among his troops.

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