Onam 2023: Know all about the classical dance forms of Kerala - Hindustan Times
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Onam 2023: Know all about the classical dance forms of Kerala

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Aug 27, 2023 04:46 PM IST

Kathakali to Ottamthullal, here's all you need to know about the classical dance forms of Kerala ahead of Onam 2023

This year, Onam festivities will begin on August 20 and Thiruvonam will fall on August 31 as the 10-day harvest festival will be observed across the South Indian state of Kerala. It marks the beginning of the Malayalam year, called Kolla Varsham and commemorated the return of the mythical King Mahabali with great enthusiasm and cultural fervor.

Students perform during Onam celebrations at the Dr. MGR-Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women, in Chennai. Onam 2023: Know all about the classical dance forms of Kerala (PTI Photo)
Students perform during Onam celebrations at the Dr. MGR-Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women, in Chennai. Onam 2023: Know all about the classical dance forms of Kerala (PTI Photo)

Kerala is known for its rich cultural heritage, including various classical dance forms that are often performed during Onam celebrations. Here's all you need to know about the classical dance forms of Kerala ahead of Onam 2023:

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  • Kathakali: Kathakali, which originated in Kerala over 300 years ago, is one of the most famous classical dance forms of the state, a highly stylised and dramatic art form combining the elements of dance, music, acting, devotion, drama, costumes and make-up. During Onam, Kathakali performances retell the great stories of the past, mostly from Indian epics or depict episodes from the Mahabali legend or other mythological stories associated with the festival, using hand and facial gestures and expressions.
  • Mohiniyattam: This graceful and lyrical dance form is performed mainly by women and is characterised by gentle, flowing movements and expressive storytelling, narrating the stories related to King Mahabali during Onam festival.
  • Koodiyattam: Recognised as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, this is one of the oldest classical theater forms in the world and involves elaborate and ritualistic performances with traditional costumes and makeup, depicting stories from Hindu epics and Puranas that are sometimes staged during Onam.
  • Thiruvathirakali is a traditional group dance that involves graceful circular movements by the women and clapping of their hands to the rhythm of the music. This group dance is often performed by women in the evening under the moonlight and is considered a celebration of womanhood.
  • Chakyar Koothu, a traditional solo performance, has the artist narrating episodes from epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in a humorous and dramatic manner on Onam and while it is not a dance form per se, it is an integral part of Kerala's performing arts tradition.
  • Ottamthullal dance form was created by the renowned Malayalam poet Kunchan Nambiar and involves a single performer narrating stories with dance and song in a satirical and humorous style where during Onam, the dance performances often focus on lighthearted themes and anecdotes.

These classical dance forms add to the cultural vibrancy and the festive atmosphere hence, they are an integral part of the auspicious Onam celebrations in Kerala. They help preserve the state's rich artistic heritage and provide a visual treat for both residents and tourists while Puli Kali, the ‘tiger dance’ is a folk dance form and is performed during the fourth day of Onam where during the festive celebrations, devotees disguise themselves as a tiger by painting their faces and bodies like the big wild cat with stripes of yellow, red or orange and black while dancing to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda.

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