A complete guide about the traditional art forms of Kerala

For tourists who look for something different in this incredible land can explore the art forms of Kerala which are unique and praiseworthy. Kerala has a wealth of cultural traditions and an array of traditional art forms than any other state that attracts people from all over the world, offering a feast of art, dance and music for tourists and art lovers.


Kerala art forms are something special that helps you to understand the vibrant cultural heritage of the state on a deeper level. Tourists appreciate the high spirit of these art forms as well as the remarkable hard work and dedication of the performers that have inspired many of them to visit and learn its traditional art forms.


Kathakali is the most vibrant classical art form that originated from Kerala’s shore over 400 years ago. It is one of the greatly admired icons of Kerala. Elaborate makeup, colorful costumes and masks along with the fusion of dance, music and act, distinguish it from other art forms of Kerala.

Kathakali blends the aspects of ballet, opera, masque and pantomime to enacts stories and events from Indian epics and Puranas. The action, emotions and concept of the play are conveyed through gestures and precise facial expressions that are universally understandable which is its highlight.

Where To Witness: 

  • Kerala Kalamandalam, Thrissur.
  • Kerala Kathakali Centre, Kochi.

What You Will Experience:

From a calm start to a miscellaneous end along with an emotional and vibrant exchange of mudras and dance moves, Kathakali performance is indeed an exhilarating experience. The play is accompanied by music known as Manipravalam and the traditional instruments like chenda, maddalam and edakka. And the whole performance will leave you to be spellbound.



Popularly known as the ‘Mother of All Martial Arts‘, Kalaripayattu is centuries-old martial art form originated in Kerala. It is also considered as the oldest martial art still in existence.

Kalaripayattu involves extremely vigorous techniques of defense and attack which includes strikes, kicks, grappling, preset forms, weaponry and healing methods. Many traditional art forms like Kathakali, Theyyam, Koodiyattam, etc. are indebted to Kalaripayattu for body movements and choreographical patterns.

Where To Witness:

  • Kadathanadan Kalari Centre & Navarasa Kathakali, Thekkady, Periyar.
  • Punarjani Traditional Village, Munnar.

What You Will Experience:

Kalarippayattu is a stunning martial art form worth-witnessing, especially the stunts with the weapons and the jump through fire rings is sure to take your breath away. The way the performers handle the swords and other weapons is remarkable and appreciable. Apart from entertainment, it teaches self-defense practices in a very efficient manner.



Recognized by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity‘, Koodiyattam is the oldest existing theatre art form in the world which is assumed to have a long history of 2000 years.

As it literally means ‘dancing together‘, Koodiyattam is performed by a group of people where the main actor is the Chakyar and the female role is performed by Nangiars while the Vidushaka plays the role of a comic character. It is a dramatic presentation in Sanskrit and its theme is based on Hindu mythology. Koodiyattam is traditionally performed as an offering in Koothambalam, a traditional theatre built within the temple premises.

Where To Witness:

  • Koodal Manickyam Temple, Irinjalakkuda, Thrissur.
  • Vadakkunnathan Temple, Thrissur.

What You Will Experience:

Watching Koodiyattam is equally enriching and entertaining. The make-up and costumes of the Koodiyattam performers are not so elaborate but the special make-up, costume, and small head-gears of the Vidushaka set him apart from other characters that clearly display his clownish appearance. While the main characters render the theme through Sanskrit slokas, hand gestures and facial expressions, the Vidushaka remains the only character speaking in the Malayalam language. Vidushaka is the most interesting character in the act who enacts his role with the privilege to criticize anyone without fear. He is very humorous and recites to mock when the hero sings something in praise of his love.



Dating back to at least 1,500 years, Theyyam is the most unique dance form of Kerala. Moreover, it is a sacred ritual art form which is performed to worship the Hindu Goddess “Kali”.

Considered as the Dance of Gods, Theyyam is usually performed by men before the village shrine, groves, and compounds of ancestral houses as ancestor-worship with elaborate rites and rituals. It showcases a rare combination of dance, music and mime which reflects the ancient tribal culture of Kerala.

Where to witness:

  • Parassini Kadavu Sri Muthappan Temple, Kannur.
  • Muchilot Bhagavathi Temples, Kannur.


Blending the graceful elegance of Bharatanatyam of Tamil Nadu with the spark and liveliness of Kathakali, Mohiniyattam is one of the most charming classical dance forms of Kerala. It is usually performed by women as a solo dance and has its roots in history and Hindu mythology.

Mohini is a mythical enchantress avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, who is said to have appeared to seduce Asuras (demons) when the Ocean of Milk was churned. And this enchanting dance form is said to have first started by the temple dancers during the reign of Chera dynasty.

Where to witness:

  • Kerala Kalamandalam, Thrissur.


Characterized with humour and wit, Thullal is the most popular classical solo dance form of Kerala which is nicknamed as ‘poor man’s Kathakali’. It is marked for the simplicity of the presentation and its frank. This sarcastic art form was introduced by the renowned poet Kunjan Nambiar in the 18th century. It is often performed in temple premises during temple festivals.

The theme of this dance-drama is based on Hindu mythology. The Thullal dancer interprets the verses through expressive gestures and facial expressions who is supported by a singer who repeats the verses, accompanied by an orchestra of maddalam and cymbals. Ottan ThullalSeethankan Thullal and Parayan Thullal are the three types of Thullal.

Where to witness:

  • Kerala Kalamandalam, Thrissur.


Padayani is one of the traditional folk dance and a ritualistic art form of Kerala. It is often performed in the Bhagavathi Temples in honour of Goddess Bhadrakali during the time of festivals. This ritualistic dance tells the story of Goddess Kali’s victory celebration after annihilating the demon, Darika.

The masque made by drawing images on the leaves of the arecanut palm called Kolams are the main highlight of Padayani and they represent spiritual forces or divine characters. The Padayani performers wear the Kolam and perform the ritual dance in devotion.

Where To Witness:

  • Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathi Temple, Alleppey.
  • Kadammanitta Bhagavathi Temple, Pathanamthitta.


Pulikali is an iconic street art form of Kerala. It is annually held with regards to the Onam celebrations, which is the harvest festival of Kerala.

Trained artists and performers disguised themselves as tigers take part in Pulikali, wearing a head mask, paint their bodies with stripes of yellow, red and black, ties jingling bells around their waist and dance wildly to the beat of instruments like Udukku and Thakil and mimic hunting moves. It is one of the renowned art forms of Kerala admired all across the world.

Where To Witness:

  • Swaraj Round, Thrissur.
  • Thiruvananthapuram Onam Procession


Thiruvathirakali, also known as Kaikottikali is an extremely graceful group dance form of Kerala performed exclusively by women. It is marked by simple lyrical steps, gentle swaying movements and rhythmic clapping of hands.

Women who perform Thiruvathirakali are dressed in traditional Kasavu saree, wear traditional gold ornaments and jasmine flowers in their hair. It is often performed as a ritual around a lit Nilavilaku and to ensure a happy and everlasting marital bliss.

Where to witness:

Thiruvathira can be witnessed in various parts of the state during the Onam festival.


Traditionally been performed only by the members of the Chakyar community, the Chakyar Koothu is one of the oldest classical theatre art forms of Kerala. It is often performed in the Koothambalam of the temple.

Chakyar Koothu is a solo dance done in the accompaniment of percussion instruments like mizhavu and elathalam (cymbals). The theme is based on Hindu mythology which is beautifully portrayed with dance movements, facial expressions, signs and symbols.

Where to witness:

  • Vadakkumnatha Temple, Thrissur.
  • Sri Krishna Swamy Temple, Ambalappuzha, Alleppey.

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