Temple Art Forms of Kerala

temple arts

Kerala which is one of the beautiful places in south India is also known by its traditional art forms. It is the different art forms that make foreigners to come here to enjoy traditional beauty of Kerala arts. Many of the martial arts are different from other art forms in India.  Uniqueness also exists between the arts itself. As Kerala is a land of temples, temple based art forms are more and they are also meant for praying and sacrificing.


KathakaliKathakali is the special art form of Kerala. The art is different itself in its costumes. Face masks and paintings used for costumes are made from natural things. It is based on the stories that taken from religious epics. The story is well presenting in the art by the Kathakali artists using their “Mudhras”.Here dancers take various roles to perform with music. The story is telling in the form of music. One of the peculiarities of the art is its make-up.

It uses different color codes for face according to the nature of characters performing. All noble characters are given with the colour of green. Evil characters are given with red colour instead of green.  Forest hunters are providing with black colour and women characters are providing with yellowish colour. Kathakali requires special training because the artists needed to perform many gestures in the stage that need a lot of muscle control and massaging. Face expression is superior in this art form.


theyyamTheyyam is a special art form in the northern part of Kerala. And it is the essential form of art for any temple festivals. It is the advanced form of tribal art called “Kaliyattam”. Moreover it is known as dance of the Gods and the Theyyam artistes are male. Female characters are also performed by male artists.  Theyyam also has a striking make-up and costumes which is purely different from others. Especially eye make-up is important in the art. Eyes are blackened and face painting is to represent the fierce deities.  As per the rituals, divine presence can be experienced while artist is performing. Colors mainly used for face painting are red, white, and yellow, black and orange.

Theyyam artist are mainly performed by some of the lowest castes of the hierarchy. Lowest communities include Velan, Malayan and Vannan.


OttamthullalThis is another type of performing art that commonly held in southern part of Kerala such as Palakkad in festival seasons. It is the reformation of Chakyar Koothu by an ancient poet and social reformer Kunjan Nambiar. This form of art was used to emphasis social issues and corrections in those days. This art form is founded in 18th century.  The performer is a single person who acts and sings himself by merging humour and social criticism.  It is not much different from Kathakali. It tells stories and social and political issues by satirical poems. As it is also a humorous art form, it is an interesting art form among public than Kathakali.


koodiyattamKoodiyattam is an ancient art form which is a Sanskrit drama performed in Kerala. It is also called kutiyattam. The art is mainly performed by Chakkyar and nambiyar. Male characters are often performed by chakkyar and female characters are given to Nambiyar women. Nambyars are given to perform the special musical instruments Mizhavu and Idakka.  In ancient times it was the duty of chakkyar and Nambiyar families to continue the profession. Koodiyattam is basically a drama that performs with gestures, body movements and facial expressions. Symbolically, colours are coded in the costumes. And very specially made head dress is another peculiarity. Mizhavu which is a special big drum is performed by Nambiyars.

Kalari payattu

kalari payattuKalaripayatt is one of the art forms that originated in Kerala 2000 years ago. In ancient days, Kalaripayattu is a form of fight that needs a special practice. In early days it is a means of defence against wild animals. And it became a fight between two groups. Usually it is a fight to get lands, money etc. for the winners. One of the fighters in the game must sacrifice his life. And the other become the winner and owns the precious gifts. It was an often cases in ancient times that majority of landowners conduct kalari game to solve land disputes. Disputes may between two landowners and they approach well playing teams of Kalari by gifting gold and money for their sacrificing. Kalari is the training school for this old martial arts and trainer is the Gurukal who is well trained in Kalari.


Mohiniyattam is a famous dance form that originated in Kerala. And it was early conducted by a group of devoted women in temple called “DevaDasis”. They showed their devotion to the temple God through this dance form. They usually played at temples and royal courts. The dance form has special Mudras which are similar to another dance form “Bharathanatyam”. Costumes and its dress code are very similar to that of Bharathanatyam and Kuchipidi. The dance form is enriched with many gestures. After the period of Swathi Thirunnal who had gave special contributions to arts, Mohiniyattam gets downfallen. After it, the dance form gets raised by the famous Malayalam Poet Vallathol. In order to pass the ancient dance form to the new generations, Kalamandalam institutions were found to give well training in this dance form.


BharathanatyamBharathanatyam is another art form that originated in Tamil Nadu and become a temple dance form in southern parts of Kerala. Basically it is the most ancient art form of India especially in Southern parts. It was also performed by DevaDasis in Tamil Nadu. It is a special dance form which is enriched with different steps and hand movements. The music behind the dance is usually very meaningful and composed based on Karnatic music. Violin, Mridangam, Veena and flute are musical instruments used to assist the dance. The artist performs according to the song and rhythms.

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