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Kathakali, Mohiniyattam and other folk dances of Kerala

Kerala magnificently is famous for palm- lined beaches, its backwaters, it’s wildlife and cruises. The people here revere their dance forms as they revere Mahabali on whose head Lord Vishnu’s incarnation Vaman placed his foot on. Some of the folk dances like Kathakali and Mohiniyattam are recognized as classical dances. Here’s a list of 5 most popular folk dances of Kerala:

Kathakali- Most prominent of the folk dances of kerala

This vivacious dance-drama is filled with attractive colors combined with elegant motion of the body in synchronous with the music. Kathakali originated in the 17th century and still popular and widely performed in various parts of the state.

The drama portrayed generally involves mythology.This drama depicted in dance is either adapted from The Mahabharath or The Ramayana or The Puranas. Kathakali is one of the most noteworthy dance as people recognize Kerala and its art and culture through this folk dance.

This gracious dance involves five main elements-

Dance– movement of the body in accordance to the rhythm

Expression– to blend along with the song

Song– describes the character that is being performed

Instrument– that plays the tune to create suave motion

Enactment– depiction of the entire drama through dance and expression and mudras


Kathakali folk dances of Kerala - Mythical India
Kathakali classical dance of Kerala


This ritualistic dance is performed mainly in Bhadrakaali Temples beginning from mid-December to mid- May. The word Padayani means a row of soldiers.

The costumes in this dance are made of kolams or masks of disparate shapes and colours. The story behind this dance is to appease goddess Kali who had turned furious after Daruka, an asura’s death.

An astounding part of this type of dance is the music. Only a single type of instrument is used to relate to the song called the thappu. Written in its colloquial language, thappu has been carried for generations and is still prevailing in various parts of the state.

Padayani dance in Kerala - Mythical India


Kaikottikali or Thiruvathirakali

Also known as Thiruvathirakali, this folk dances of Kerala is popularly performed during important occasions mainly Onam and Thiruvathira. This is a symmetric group dance performed around a nilavilakku; the ceremonial lamp or the floral kolam during Onam.

Women generally perform this dance to attain eternal marital happiness. As Thiruvathira is the star of Lord Shiva, women sing chants and hymns to praise Lord Shiva in his eternal glory. The dance involves co-ordinated movements with clapping of hands. Kai in Malayalam means hands and kotti means clapping, thus the literal meaning is the hand-clapping dance.

Thiruvathira folk dances of Kerala mainly performed during Onam - Mythical India
Thiruvathira folk dance mainly performed during Onam

The dancers adorn in the customary off white mundu with heavy jewels and gracefully demonstrate their elegance and co-ordination to appease the Lord and bestow them with marital bliss.


One of the contemporary folk dances of Kerala involves a solo performance of the dancer- typically a woman who charms the crowd with her sensual and graceful movement. The dancers are clad in the traditional white mundu with gold border complete with glistening gold jewellery. In earlier days; this dance was performed in temples to thank the Lord for bestowing the wonders of nature.

The divine dance of Mohiniayattam revolves around many stories. One story revolves around Lord Vishnu when he took the form of a mohini– a beautiful woman and lured the asuras to give the pot of ambrosia- that keeps the Gods young forever. Another story specifies that Lord Shiva and Vishnu took the form of a mohini and gave birth to Lord Aiyappa- the living God.

Mohiniyattam dance involves expressing - Mythical India



Thirayattam folk dance has its roots submerged in spirituality and the dancers themselves choose the Gods or Goddess to portray in all supreme through their dance. When the dancers praise Lord Kali, this dance form takes a new name of Kaliyattam.

The dancers are highly professional beginning from their attire to their intricate movements. The dance involves the dancers to put layers and layers of make-up on their faces to resemble the actual Gods that they portray. The dancers are venerated for their ultimate portrayal of the Lord.

The performance along with music from big and small drums, kombu and flute enthralls the audience and appeases the Gods.

Thirayattam folk dance in Kerala - Mythical India
Thirayattam folk dance in Kerala


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