Classical dances of Kerala are more or less based on the principles and techniques embodied in the ancient Hindu scriptures and technical texts on dance and allied arts. The earliest of these known scripts is Natyashastra
believed to have been written around the second century B.C. In Classical Dance performance, sophistication, along the norms of the scriptures of advance theories on dance and dramaturgy are strictly adhered to. The concept of portraying emotion, the grace of the individual dances and the virtuosity of the isolated poses are all important in classical dances of Kerala. Some of the major classical dances of Kerala
are as follows -
: This classical dance is one of the oldest of theatrical arts peculiar to Kerala. The term Koothu literally means dance which may be taken as an index of the importance attached to dance in the original form of the art. The actor recites stories from the epics interpreting them in Malayalam language, enlivening his narration with Thandava dance rhythms and also gestures and bodily postures which are clearly derived from Natyashastra. In actual performance the dancer adorned with his special type of headgear and unusual facial make-up offers prayers to the presiding deity of the particular temple where he is performing. After that he recites a verse from the Sanskrit text from which he intends to expound and then explains it in Malayalam. The instruments used are a pair of cymbals and the mizhavu which is a big copper drum.
: This is another popular classical dance form similar to the Koothu in its technical content. But here the dance element is almost given up and the narration is done through an alternating prose and song sequences, the gestures being retained.
: Instead of single Chakyar a number of performers get together and stage this dance-drama. That is why it is called Koodiyattam, literally means `dancing together`. Both men and women partake in this performance. Abhinaya is the most important element in Koodiyattam. The texts are always in Sanskrit and the performance is a prolonged affair. All the four types of abhinaya, namely Angikam, Vachikam, Sathvikam and Aharyam are fully utilised in Koodiyattom. The plays are performed only in temple precincts as votive offerings. The make-up patterns as seen in Kathakali are borrowed from Koodiyattam. The stage craft is simple, with hardly any stage setting. Koodiyattam is perhaps the oldest dance-drama in existence in India.
: This is a popular dance form based on the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva. It was more of a dramatic representation of the renowned lyrical play. Altogether there are only five characters, Krishna, Radha and three females. However, this classical dance form is now almost extinct).
: A refinement of Ashtapadiattam, evolved by Manavedan, the Zamorin was Krishnanattam. The whole story of Krishna is presented through a drama-cycle.
: Legends say that an offshoot of the rivalry between the Zamorin and the Raja of Kottarakara, the later created the Ramanattom, the dance-drama on the life of Rama. In course of time the masks were discarded and a richer variety in facial make-up was developed. It was this Ramanattam that developed into Kathakali.
is one of the most popular classical dances of India. Vivid and eloquent in its characteristics mudras (hand sings), natural and impressive in gesture, graceful and rhythmic in movement, pleasing in choreography and above all delightful in wealth of imagery, Kathakali ranks high among the Indian dance forms. For themes Kathakali draws upon the inexhaustible treasure trove of the ancient Puranas chronicling the lives, loves and conflicts of the gods and supermen of Indian mythology. Music is an important and essential element in Kathakali.
: A solo dance exposition, Thullal
is of three types. Dance is given prime importance in Thullal. Thullal is classified into three different types- Ottan, Seethankan and Parayan.
is a seductive dance performed by women and it is very sensuous in its appeal. The symmetrical patterns of emotion flow in balanced nuances with smooth footwork, somewhat quickened body movements and special music. As the name implies it is the dance of the charmer. The technical structure of Mohiniattam is fairly similar to that of Bharatnatyam
Thus, discussed above are some of the renowned classical dance forms of Kerala that also provide a glimpse of the rich culture of the state.