The southern state of India, Kerala, is known for its rich diversity of art forms. Way back in 1930, Mahakavi Vallathol established Kerala Kalamandalam and introduced two distinct classical dance styles, namely, Kathakali and Mohiniattam, that enthralled even European audiences when performed by Kalamandalam dancers led by the great poet. While the two classical dances gained international recognition, there are several other art forms of Kerala that are comparatively lesser known, some of which I enlist here, that captures the attention of the common people. I dedicate this article to three devoted performers whom I met personally: Veteran Koodiyattam artiste, Mani Madhava Chakyar, Mumbai-based Chakyar Koothu artiste, K. K. Rajan, and Ottam Thullal artiste, Kalamandalam Geethanandanam, who literally collapsed on stage during a performance at a young age!
Theyyam is a ritualistic dance form wherein pantheistic deities are summoned to the body of the performer. The performers are generally men and they perform in a kaavu (small rain forest) manifesting varied aspects of nature. The performers are decorated with leaves, garlands, flowers and fruits. The headgear is really big and personifies Chamundi Theyyam who is the goddess invoked. Particularly prevalent in North Malabar, there are several types of Theyyam, and the dance is performed near temples. There are particular communities that follow this custom with strict adherence.
Koodiyattam is considered the mother of Kathakali, and also the greatest form of Sanskrit theatre that led to the development of the dramatic art form of Kerala. Koodiyattam literally means dancing together and is also based on the ‘sastras’, and the language of hand gestures is derived from Hasta Laksha Deepika and is the original form of dance drama and theatre. Kathakali is considered the refined and decorated form of Koodiyattam that portrays stories of Hindu mythology in a dramatized form. While the costume and make-up of Koodiyattam is comparatively simpler, Kathakali moves forward with stylised make-up and costumes that changes according to the character portrayed.