Art & Culture
Kerala has a rich tradition of art and culture with roots running deep into its colorful and vibrant past. The stone age carvings and pictorial writings at the Edakkal caves near Kalpetta, Wayanad bear testimony to this fact. Though the main religion practiced in the State is Hinduism, the influences of Christianity and Islam are distinct. Kerala has a rich tradition of harmony and peace with people belonging to different faiths and religions respecting each other and participating in all festivals, be it Onam, Vishu, Christmas or Id with equal fervor. The ensemble of all these religions has also caused an impact on its art forms as well.
Graceful and exquisite dance forms like Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Theyyam, Kol Kali, Oppana and Margam kali are well appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. The cuisine also reflects the influence of all communities, be it the spicy fish curries (Pearl Spot, locally called ‘karimeen’), boiled Kappa or Tapioca, Appams (lace pancakes), Puttu (steamed rice cakes), Idiyappam (string hoppers), Crab curries, Prawn dishes, all of which are prepared with the spices and condiments peculiar to Kerala.
The term Kathakali in Malayalam means “story-play”. This dance drama is said to be conceptualized during the seventeenth century. The elegant plays are based on the ancient stories of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagavata Purana each depicting the Gods –heroes like Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. The movements in Kathakali are such that all the emotions like lust, greed, envy, and violence are shown beautifully giving great depth to the performance of the characters.
Chakyarkoothu is one of the oldest classical arts of Kerala. A fine blend of social satire, mime, and comedy, the Chakyarkoothu is usually presented in the traditional temple theatre Koothambalam or Koothupura. This solo performance by the Chakkiar (a community name for Koothu performers) who dons the role of the Vidushaka (jester) is accompanied by the Mizhavu – (a percussion instrument) and Ilathalam (cymbals). The performance begins with an invocation to the presiding deity of the temple. The narration is enlivened with Thandava (the cosmic dance of Lord Siva) dance movements, gestures, and facial expressions according to the 2nd century B.C treatise on theatre, Natyasastra written by Sage Bharatha. Through his inimitable narration of stories from the epics, the Chakkiar satirizes the manners and customs of the time. No one is above the butt of his ridicule which varies from innocent mockery to veiled innuendoes, barbed puns, and pungent invectives.
A dance form essential to the wedding entertainment and festivities of the Malabar Muslims. Maidens and young female relatives sing and dance around the bride, clapping their hands. The songs of Mappilappattu, are first sung by the leader and are repeated by the chorus. The themes are often teasing comments and innuendoes about the bride’s anticipated nuptial bliss.
Margam Kali is an art form found among the Syrian Christians in and around Kottayam, Kerala. In this performance, a dozen dancers sing and dance around a lighted wick lamp (Nilavilakku – a traditional Kerala lamp) clad in the simple traditional Christian women’s attire. This is an allegorical enactment with the lamp representing Christ and the performers as his disciples. The performance is usually held in two parts and begins with songs and dances narrating the life of St. Thomas, the apostle. The songs date back to a period much before the Portuguese invasion.
Thrissur Pooram, one of the most famous temple festivals of Kerala is a sight to behold and be awestruck just by the sheer participation of the general public. This magnificent festival where around 30 elephants are paraded in all their grandeur along with the intense sounds of the Ilanjithara melam conducted by around 250 artistes is bound to mesmerize the tourist. This festival is held at the Vadakumnathan temple which is a classic example of traditional Kerala architecture. The grand finale is an astounding display of fireworks.