Many dance forms of Kerala originated and developed from temples. They were originated performed to please the Amman (Durga, Kali) deity of coastal area and Ayyan of the hilly regions. In Durga temples, Kalamezhuthu is one of the important ritual art forms. An important part Kalamezhuthu is the revelation of Velichappad (oracle). The thullal of Velichappad while the revelations are made is a primitive form of dance. The dance of Piniyal (one who is infested with the spirits) while performing Pambinthullal (snake dance) is also a form of dance. Theyyam or Thira of North Kerala is considered as one of the oldest dance forms with its spectacular and diverse dance poses.


Arjunanritham is the dance performed by men in the temples. It is performed at night. The songs are related with the themes of epics. Rhyme based songs called Kavithagal are sung while the dance is performed. Musical instruments like the Chenda, Maddalam, and Ilathalam are used in the background. It is also known Mayilppeeli Nritham since the costume used is made out of Mayilpeeli (feathers of peacock). The movements of the dance resemble the movements of Kalaripayatu, the martial art of Kerala. Arjuna, the third among the Pandavas was an expert singer and dancer. It is believed that Arjuna had presented this dance for before Goddess Bhagavathy to please the Goddess.


Chakkyar Koothu

Chakkyar Koothu is also called Koothu, which is one of the oldest classical temple arts of kerala. It is believed that immigrant Aryans introduced the art form in Kerala. The members of Chakkyar community perform it. The performance begins with a hymn to the deity of the temple. The story is generally from the epics and it is recited in a dramatic style with stress on fluent narrations with typical facial expressions in accordance with the Natya Sastra. It is unique for its comic style. The Chakkyar has the privilege to tease or criticize anybody, even the King, while performing the Koothu and it should not be questioned. The costume of Chakkyar is colorful and peculiar with an odd head covering. The instrument used in the background is Mizhavu played by a Nambiar.



Kaniyarkali is an art form performed in Pallassana, Kizhakenjeri, Vadakkumchery, Koduvayoor, Chiittoor and Nenmara areas of Palakkad District. This is performed by Nairs. The dance form is a combination of martial arts and folk dance. It is believed that the dance form was originated to face the threat from the attack of Konganpada, the military of the neighbouring Kongunadu (Coiambatore). The Kaniyarkali is performed in the temples in a specially built ‘pandal’. The performance of dance lasts for four days. Each day’s performance is known as Iravakali, Anadikoothu, Vallon and Malama. The dance is accompanied by devotional songs and playing of Chenda, Maddalam, Edakka Udukku and Ilathalom.


Kathakali is a spectacular and exclusive classical dance-drama of Kerala in which stories are narrated through gestures, facial expressions and body movements to the accompaniment of chenda and cymbals. Kathakali derives much from folk culture and the religious plays traditionally performed in temples. Kathakali is a beautiful blending of nrutha (pure dance) and nrithya (expressional dance) with marvelous body movements, facial expressions and well-designed costumes and ornaments. It is believed that this elaborate art form was developed in 17th century A.D. Kathakali has many similarities to Yakshagana of Karnataka. The basic principles of Kathakali are taken from the Natysasthra of Bharathamuni, the ancient thesis on dance and drama. This elaborate art is an integral part of all temple and cultural festivals in Kerala. Kathakali has originated from Ramanattom, an earlier dance form. Kottarakkara Thampuran, ruler of a princely state in Kerala was the founder of Ramanattom. At that time, Krishnattom, another dance form was staged in Guruvayoor temple. It was not allowed to stage anywhere outside the Guruvayoor temple. Once, Kottarakkara Thampuran went to Guruvayoor under disguise and enjoyed the dance form. After seeing Krishnattom, he decided to create another art form that could be enjoyed by all. Thus he found out Ramanattom. Vettathu Thampuran, who ruled the neighbouring state between 1630 and 1640, developed the Ramanattom into Kathakali in its present form. It was Kottayam Thampuran who prescribed the rules and regulations for the stage performance of Kath Kali. The rules so prescribed are Keli, Kelikai, Thodayam, Vandanaslokam, Purappad, Melappadam and Kottikkalasam. Kathakali is usually performed during night hours. It starts after dusk and continues up to dawn of next day. The actors neither speak nor sing. They perform their acts through mudra (sign), movements and expressions in accordance with the background music. More than 800 symbolic meanings and descriptions can be conveyed through 24 mudras. The costumes and makeup are ornamental, elaborate and designed to give a superhuman effect to the actors. The faces of Gods, heroes, and Kings are always painted green with ridges of white rice paste around the edges, while demons have red beards, white mustaches, and knobs on their noses. Pacha, Kathi, Thadi and Kari are the prescribed make up forms of characters. Costumes are colorful and include decorated headdresses associated with the parts and white skirts. The stories of Kathakali are derived from the epics and myths. Stories involve heroes, villains, gods, and demons. Chenda, Maddalam, Chengila and Ilathalam are the musical instruments played while Kathakali is staged.Kathakali became widely popular through royal patronage, soon developed as a classical dance-drama. In the 18th century Kathakali became a theater art of all people and performed outside temples also. During the British rule Kathakali suffered a serious set back. However, the constant and almost single-handedly efforts of Vallathol Nayayana Menon, the great poet of Kerala, regained the glory of Kathakali and attracted national international audiences. Kerala is highly indebted to Vallathol for his outstanding contributions for the revival of this great art form and for the establishment of Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthi where Kathakali training is imparted.




Kavadiyattam is a ritualistic dance form usually offered in Subramanya temples. The devotees wearing yellow dresses smeared with bhasmam (sacred ash) all over the body and perform dances with Kavadis (colorful bow shaped wooden structures having different heights decorated with peacock feathers) on their shoulders. Different Kavadis such as Ambalakavadi (temple like structure), Pookavadi (made of colorful paper flowers arranged in a pyramid shape) are used. The Udukku, Chenda,Thakil and Nadaswaram are the musical instruments that played while the dance is performed. Kolamthullal Kolamthullal is a ritual dance performed by Ganaka or Kaniyan community to eradicate evil spirits from the body and mind of people. It is also performed as a part of Padayani, Kalamezhuthu etc.


Kolkkali is a rhythmic dance with the dancers wielding short sticks. Kolkkali is a popular dance form among Muslims. Hindus also perform this dance. The dance is the thandava version of Kaikottikkali with a difference that instead of hands, small sticks known as Kol are used for striking. Men only participate in this dance form, as the performance of the dance requires basic martial training. The steps resemble movements of Kalarippayattu. The rhythm of this dance is set by synchronization of tapping feet to the striking of sticks. The movement of dancers is circular and they sing and dance striking the sticks.



Koodiyattom means dancing together. Koodiyattom is a classical dance form that claims two thousand year old tradition. It is the primitive form of Sanskrit drama. Koodiyattom is performed in Koothambalam (special theatre) attached to temples to make the people aware of epics, classics and to teach moral values. Koodiyattom is a forerunner of Kathakali. Thiraseela (curtain), make up, ornaments and costumes used for Koodiyattom performance are almost that of Kathakali. Chakkiyar narrates stories and interprets its meanings in simple and humorous way. Nambiar and Nangiar handle Mizhavu and Kuzhithalam respectively. The style of acting, playing of different roles by same actor, stories and sub-stories, nethrabhinaya (eye expressions), mukhabhinaya (facial expressions), angikabhinaya (body movements), dialogues in Sanskrit and Malayalam etc. make this art form unique. Nangiar (Female dancer) also participate in the dance enacting the female roles. Koodiyattom has been recognised by the UNESCO.



Krishnanattom is a complete dance form exclusively performed at the Sree Krishana Temple at Guruvayoor as an offering. This pantomime was originated by one of the Zamorins of Kozhikode. It is a forerunner of Kathakali. Performance of Krishnanattom lasts for eight days and describes the story of Lord Krishna. Colorful facial make-up with colors of dark green, flesh tint and deep rose and clothe padding, red vests and flowing 'Uthariyams' increase the visual effect of the dance form. Krishna, Arjuna and Garuda are the main characters. Maddalam, Ilathalam and Chengala are the musical instruments played.

Kuthiyottam is an offering made in the Devi Temples of South Kerala. At Chettikulangara and Attukal Devi temples this was performed in connection with temple festivals. Boys perform the ritual. Practice to perform Kuthiyottam starts from the Bharani day of Kumbham (February-March) month. Boys ornamented with caps, garlands are taken in a procession to the temple and they perform the dance in front of the deity.


Mohini in Malayalam means seductress and attam means dance. So Mohiniattaom can be considered as a seductive dance. Sringara (passion) and Lassya are the major elements of the dance. Woman performs Mohiniyattom. It is a solo performance. The origin of Mohiniattom is from Dasiattom, the dance of the temple courtesans. Later it was refined according to the Natyasasthra by Swathi Thirunal, the Maharajah of Travancore. There is an opinion that Mohiniyattom is the Kerala version of Abhinayakoothu of Tamil Nadu. Legend says that God Vishnu once incarnated as a Mohini (beautiful lady) to rescue God Siva from Bhasmasura, a demon. Mohini performed gorgeous dance before the demon and seduced him. The dance so performed by Mohini is the Mohiniyattom. The costume as well as the hairstyle of the dancer is of typical Kerala tradition. The background song is of the classical style. Madhalam, Kuzhithalam, Kuzhal are the musical instruments played along with the song.


  Mudiyettu is a ritual dance form performed in Bhagavathy temples of Central Kerala. The dance is performed in memory of the rejoice of Goddess's victory over the demon Darika. The Kuruppu performs Mudiyettu.

Nangiar Koothu

Nangiar Koothu is a ritual dance form presented by Nangiar, female member of Nambiar community. Usually Nangiar Koothu is performed in temples during daytime. The biography of Lord Krishna is the theme of this dance form.

Pamputhullal (Sarppamthullal)

Pamputhullal or Sarpamthullal is performed in the Kavu (snake shrines). This is a temple offering. Pulluvan perform the dance before the Sarppakkalam. A Nilavilakku (bell metal lamp) and Nirapara (a measuring jar with full of paddy grains)are also arranged in front of the Kalam. The idol of the snake is brought from the Kavu and placed in the Kalam and the Pulluvan performs ritual offerings. He then dances round the Kalam while Pulluvan and Pulluvathi sing devotional songs to the tune and rhythm of Nanduni and Pulluvakudam. The girls, who are present on the occasion, also start to dance swinging their body in ascending pace. The dance concludes in an emotion of rhythmic zeal.



Padayani is a ance form performed in the Devi (Durga) Temples of central Kerala during festivals celebrated in the month of Medam (April-May). It is also known as Padeni. Scholars are of the opinion that it may be 'Padasreni' that was converted as 'Padayani'. Legend say that God Shiva accompanied by other Gods performed the dance by wearing masks to please and calm the Goddess Durga who was returning furiously after killing of Darika. The Goddess was pleased on the dance performance and became quite. The ritualistic dancers wearing huge masks of different shapes with round large eyes and big ears, give an excellent look. The masks are made using spadix of areca nut tree and painted with a fantastic touch of various designs. The characters appear in Padayani are known as Ganapathykolam, Yakshikolam, Pakshikolam, Kalankolam, Pisachukolam, Madankolam, Maruthakolam, Bhairavikolam, Gandharvakolam, Mukilankolam etc. The whole village community participate in the performance directly or indirectly. Thappu, Chenda, Mani are the accompanying musical instruments.



Pakkanarattom is a dance form performed by Paraya community. Men disguised as Pakkanar (one of the sons of Vararuchy, the famous astrologer and King) and his wife visit houses and perform the dance. Para and thudy are the musical accompaniments.


  Paana or Pallippaana, is a function organised in Bhadrakali (Durga - Bhagavathy) temples. It is ike Mudiyettu. The killing of Darika is the theme of the subject. Pana festival lasts for four days. The art form is popular in the districts of Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram. It is performed in a specially constructed pandal of 64 sq. feet with 64 poles cut from the Pala tree (Alstonia scholaris) and adorned with tender palm fronds. This is erected near the shrine of the Goddess. Song praising Lord Ganapathy, Lord Sastha, Kali (Durga) and about Darika, known as Thottam Pattu, is sung. On completion of Thottam Pattu, the oracle used to proclaim the commands of the Goddess and the pandal will be demolished.


Two types of Theeyattu are there. Kali Theeyattu and Ayyappan Theeyattu. Kali Theeyattu is a dance-drama performed in Bhagavathy temples. The right to perform the Theeyattu is vested with Theeyattunnis, an Ambalavasi community. It is presented in front of the Kalam. The ritual starts with the invocation of Lord Ganapathy, Lord Siva and Goddess Saraswathy. The performer recites the story of duel between Goddess Kali and Daarika. Ayyappan Theeyattu is staged to propitiate Lord Sastha.

Theyyam, the ritualistic and sacred dance form, is performed in Kasargode, Kannur and Wayanad districts of Kerala. In every village of these districts, there are Kavus (sacred grove shrines), where the theyyam dance is performed. The theyyam is presented during Makaram, Kumbham and Meenam (January, February and March) months. The main deity is the God or Goddess of the local Kavu or temples. Theyyam is the corrupt form of Daivam or God. It also involve hero worship, ancestor worship etc. In the performance of Theyyam, the performer personifies the deities propitiated. It is believed that the Gods and souls of dead ancestors and heroes are arriving through the performers and discuss with the people. Muthappan, Kuttichathan, Gandharvan, Pisachu are the mionor Gods appear in Theyyam. Thira represents the great heroes of the past. The performers in colourful costumes decorated long and large headdresses and facial make-ups impersonate all Gods or Goddess. Decorated headdresses made out of wood distinguish Tira from Theyyam. The theyyam performance commences with the song praising the god to be presented in the form of Theyyam. At the end, the performer appears as the Theyyam and dances to the tune of background instruments like Chenda and Elathalam. Men belonging to Mavilar, Peruvannan, Paravan, Velan communities are generally performing the Theyyam and Thira dance forms. Theyyam is evolved from the art form Kaliyattam practiced by tribes of northern Malabar. Kaliyattam is an annual festival attached to the temples or shrines known as Muchilod, Kavu, Palliyara, Mundya, Tanam, Madhapura of Malabar region. Kaliyatoom has similar to Kathakaliin several aspects. Like Kathakali, Kaliyattom begins with Keli and ends with Kottikkalasam.



Kundoor chamundi

Panchuruli Thira



Wayanad Kulavan

Vedan Theyyam


Yalkshan Theyyam


Bhagavathy theyyam





Thullal is a combination of the dance and recitation of stories in verse. It is a solo performance. The renowned Malayalam poet Kunchan Nambiar is the founder of Thullal. Nambiar introduced this satirical art form in the 18th century A.D. Wit and humour in simple Malayalam make thullal a most popular art form. Dance, which includes movements of the body with rhythm footsteps, is the main part of Thullal. According to a story, Kunchan Nambiar while playing Mizhavu to accompany Koothu at Ambalapuzha temple fell asleep and the Chakkyar teased and insulted him. Nambiar who could not tolerate the insult, wrote a Thullal story on the same night and performed on next day evening while the Chakkyar, who insulted him previous day, started his Koothu. The entire audience present for Chakkyar Koothu was attracted by the new art from. Inspired by the overwhelming applause, Nambiar wrote more Thullal stories and presented before the audience. Thus he started a new art form and a new literature branch in Malayalam. In fact, Kunchan Nambiar was bringing the classical themes and art forms out of temple culture and introducing social satire to the common masses breaking the monopoly of upper classes over the arts and culture. Some scholars are of opinion that Nambiar had restructured the already existing Thullal art form in other art forms like Padayani etc.Thullal is categorised into three viz., Parayan Thullal, Seethankan Thullal and Ottan Thullal. A red decorative cloth that reaches up to knee, a crown and chest ornament are the costume for Ottan Thullal. The make up is like that of Kathakali, but very simple. Face is used to be paint with green colour. It has fast footsteps unlike the other two types. There is a version that Ottam (running) Thullal was converted into Ottan Thullal. Among the three forms, Ottan Thullal is most popular. In Seethankan Thullal, the ornaments are made of tender coconut fronds. No facial colours are given. In Parayan Thullal, red flowers form part of the costume. The face is painted with yellow colour and head is covered with a crown. Generally Ottan Thullal is performed during temple festivals and in courts of princes. The performer explains the verses through expressive gestures. The story-themes are based on Hindu mythology. Satire, social criticism and humor are the characteristic features of Thullal. A singer repeats the verses of the dancer accompanied by an orchestra of Mridangam and Cymbals.