Kerala's Dances

Kerala’s dances are a representation of its vibrant and energetic culture. A peep into the historical evolution of Kerala’s art forms offers an understanding of the changing social and economic patterns of its social structure. Patronised and performed for the upper classes, most of Kerala’s art forms originated with Sanskrit as the language of performance and the temple as the centre of its soul. Landlords and chieftains maintained their own private troupes (kaliyogam). The early performers were mostly community based, hailing from communities like the Chakyar, Nambiar, Marar, Kuruppu and Poduval.

Over the years, with the onset of British rule and changing economic landscape, maintaining such troupes became an expensive affair. The foreigners’ fear of the natives slowly spelled the decline of Kalaripayattu, the precursor to most martial art forms worldwide. Communities that depended on and preserved these dance forms, slowly moved onto newer economic avenues to sustain themselves. Art and culture took a beating though it survived in patches across the countryside.

A sea change in the prevailing art scene took place with the founding of Kerala Kalamandalam, an establishment for the nurturing of Kerala’s dance forms, instituted by the poet Vallathol, in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Today, much of these art forms are propagated by independent dance schools. Moreover with the advent of tourism coupled with the traditional focus of its people on education and social health, Kerala’s dance forms have begun its journey back, through its schools, back into the mainstream of its social fabric.