KERALA KALAMANDALAM (Centre for Indian Performing Arts and Culture)

The Kerala Kalamandalam, a distinguished centre of excellence in Performing Arts, which spearheaded the movement of cultural renaissance in Kerala.This important academy of arts 32km north-east of Trichur at Cheruthuruthy was founded in 1930 by the late poet Vallathol Narayana Menon and his associate Manakkulam Mukunda Raja.It is the home of the keral's kathakali dance.Kalamandalam is the State Academy of Arts. It has been invariably the best institution in India imparting training in and conducting performance of Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Mohiniyattam, Panchavadyam and Thullal.The ancient Gurukula system of education continues to be a living tradition in this school which has over the years become in the cultural history of Kerala.

Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon

Manakkulam Mukunda Rajah

Kalamandalam is the best institution in India imparting training and conducting performance of Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Panchavadyam and Thullal. Beside the regular courses Kalamandalam also offer crash courses in different art disciplines.

The basic aim of all these crash courses is to help theatre artists, classical and contemporary dancers, researchers, art historians and scholars from the East and the West who come to this land to familiarize with the performing art forms.

Besides the academic programs the Kalamandalam troupe consisting of renowned artists of various artforms - conduct performance of all the above art forms on request

Kerala Kalamandalam(History)

Of all the states in the Indian sub-continent Kerala is perhaps the only one endowed with a spectacular heritage of performing, ritual, folk and classical arts. The time - honored values lie dormant in the living traditions of these performing arts. The feudal chieftains and provincial landlords who patronized these visual and devotional arts for centuries were not only encouraging them as entertainment but were also upholding their moral and ethical messages. Towards the fag end of the nineteenth century the traditional arts of Kerala happened to be on the verge of extinction.The social, political and cultural factors which contributed to the downfall of the art forms are many and varied. This was but an ephemeral phenomenon.The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed a cultural renaissance all over India. In Kerala among those who spearheaded the cultural renaissance poet Vallathol Narayana Menon is an immortal name. Besides being an outstanding poet and scholar, Vallathol was a passionate lover of Kathakali and other similar classical dance-theatre traditions of Kerala. Against all odds he took up the task of saving Kathakali and other stylized art-forms from the eclipse.

Kakkad Karanavappad, an eminent scholar and Manakkulam Mukundaraja, a devoted cultural -activist were an unending source of inspiration to Vallathol in the establishment of KERALA KALAMANDALAM along the banks of the river Bharathapuzha in Cheruthuruthy, a small village in the northern edge of Trichur District. It was in 1930. The birth of Kalamandalam was remarkable in many respects.It was the first step in the cultural history of Kerala to start training in classical performing arts which were so far left to the patronage of provincial kings and landlords.The artists especially the Kathakali artists were more or less the aesthetic victims of the society. They were silent sufferers of caste hierarchy. With the establishment of Kalamandalam the social and cultural emancipation of traditional artists became a reality. At the same time Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, the two major art-forms heading to extinction for want of patronage ensured their existence and progress under the newly evolved institutional set-up. The poet spared no attempts to see that Kathakali the classical dance-theatre and Mohiniyattam, the classical female dance of Kerala flourished in the fertile land of Kalamandalam. He invited titans in the field to the campus. They lived in Kalamandalam, performed off and on in its yard and taught talented students for years and years. Late Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon the doyen of the North School of Kathakali headed the Faculty of Kathakali at Kalamandalam for about one and a half decades. He groomed great artists like Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Ramankutty Nair and Padmanabhan Nair who later became the principal teachers of this world renowned institution. For training in Mohiniyattam there were the surviving maestros Korattikkara Krishna Panickar, Madhavi Amma, Kalyani Amma and Chinnammu Amma. Their disciples Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma and Kalamandalam Sathyabhama developed the aesthetics of Mohiniyattam and earned for it world-wide recognition. Their distinguished disciples are now the cream of today's Mohiniyattam dancers.

The Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Kalamandalam were an unforgettable event in its history. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru,the first Prime Minister of India inaugurated the jubilee celebrations in 1955. Nehru commended the contributions of Poet Vallathol to Indian arts and culture and donated Rs. One lakh to Kalamandalam for its developmental activities. The affection between the statesman and the poet grew. Vallathol visited China and Russia as India's cultural ambassador. Govt. of India awarded Padmabhooshan to the Poet in recognition of his services to art and literature.

In 1965 Kalamandalam added Koodiyattam to its curriculum. Koodiyattam is the only extant stylized Sanskrit theatre having a tradition of two thousand years. Painkulam Rama Chakyar who headed the Koodiyattam department was a maverick. Rama Chakyar boldly brought Koothu and Koodiyattam outside the temples in the late fifties. He thus incurred the wrath of the caste-conscious conservatives in the field.Chakyar but did not compromise. He liberated these esoteric art forms from the dark cells of taboos and inhibitions. From 1965 Koodiyattam, Nangiarkoothu, the 'Nirvahana' of its female characters and Koothu were made available for study to aspirants all over the world. Kalamandalam has produced a handful of gifted artists in the field.

Other performing arts taught at and performed by Kalamandalam are Thullal a semi classical solo dance-drama, Panchavadyam, an orchestra, Mridangam, a musical accompaniment to dance, classical music recitals and Karnatic Music . In the Dance Faculty the optional subject is Mohiniyattam. Bharatanatyam and Kuchupudi are subsidiary subjects.

In 1980 the then Prime Minister of India Smt. Indira Gandhi inaugurated the Golden Jubilee of Kalamandalam. Celebrations included dance-recitals, music-concerts, Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Symposiums and Lecture Demonstrations. TheDiamond Jubilee was inaugurated in 1990 by the then Prime Minister Shri.V.P. Singh. The presence of stalwarts in the field of dance, music, theatre, poetry and literature made the jubilee the greatest event in the history of Kalamandalam. Pandit Ravi Sankar, Dr. L. Subramaniam, Ustad Allaragha, Pandit Brij Maharaj, Sonal Mansigh, Dr. Padma Subramaniam, Malavika Sarukai, Dr. T.N. Krishnan, Dr.N.Rajam, M.S. Gopalakrishnan, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Karaikudy Mani, Mandolin Srinivasan and equally distinguished artists performed in Kalalmandalam. For most of them it was the fulfillment of a dream. This temple of arts kindled their spirits.


Is Kathakali a stylized dance-drama? Is it a pantomime? Can it be called a classical ballet? One of the world's top-ranking poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore was instantly impressed by the aesthetic range and the narrative techniques of Kathakali when Kalamandalam presented a program in Santiniketan. Kathakali was born only in the 17th century.

But in less than four centuries it grew up to represent India's cultural heritage to the world outside. An eclectic art Kathakali evolved its classicism receiving inspiration from most of its predecessors viz Koodiyattam, Krishnanattam, Theyyam, Martial arts, Padayani, Mudiyett and similar traditions.

Kathakali plays are composed from the great Indian Epics, The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, and the Bhagavatha. The play synchroniz es on stage Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (Expressional Dance), Natya (Histrionics), Geeta (Vocal Music) and Vadya (Percussion Ensemble). Kathakali characters communicate through the language of hand-gestures (over six hundred gestures are in use), body movements and facial expressions. The text of the play is sung by the principal and supporting vocalists. The dancers translate the songs into appropriate gestures, movements and expressions. 'Chenda' and 'Maddalam' are the two major percussion instruments used in Kathakali. They provide audio effect to the performance by tracing the character behavior. A curtain (Thiraseela) is held on stage by two persons just before the entry and exit of all the main characters. This is a traditional theatrical device to transcend time and space.

Kathakali make-up and costuming is intricate, elaborate and colorful. It takes at least three hours for an actor to transform into a full-fledged character with facial make-up, head-gear, ornaments and colorful costumes. Kathakali characters are broadly divided into noble, wicked and grotesque. Their make-up and costumes differ from one-another. Love, Separation, virtue Vs vice, comic-relief, emotional struggles, gruesome-war and murder are common scenes in the Kathakali plays. More than the themes, the kathakali stylistics of individual performers is the abiding passion of Kathakali fans. Kalamandalam gives intensive training to young aspirants in Kathakali. Body-massage is a must for Kathakali students. Teachers will massage the students from head to foot in the small hours of the morning' during monsoon - June to August. After applying oil throughout the body the students have to take a set of exercises. There are also post-massage exercises. Massage makes the body of the student supple and allows him a lot of flexibility in all his movements on stage. Body-massage is a treatment involving strain and pain. Kathakali perhaps adapted this training-technique from Kalaripayattu (Martial arts). In Kalamandalam, Kathakali students are trained in such a way as to master the techniques first. They are later led to character-analysis and emotional identification.


Koodiyattam is the sole surviving classical Sanskrit theatre in India. It is a two thousand year old theatre-tradition. Traditionally Koothu and Koodiyattam are the privilege of the templecastes Chakyars and Nambiars. Chakyars enact the male-characters and Nangiars (the women of the Nambiars) enact the female-characters. Nambiars play Mizhavu, the major percussion-instrument in Koodiyattam. The plays of Kulasekhara, Sakthibhadra, Bhasa Kalidasa and Bodhayana are enacted act by act in Koodiyattam. The four-fold concept of acting dealt with in the Natyasastra, sage Bharata's ancient dramaturgy, find its due significance in Koodiyattam. Angika (hand-gestures and body-movements), Vachika (Verbal acting), Aharya (Make-up and costuming) and Satwika (Facial Expressions) in Koodiyattam are highly stylized. One finds in Koodiyattam more of Natyadharmi (stylized Acting) compared to other classical art-forms.

Apart from the epic heroes, heroines, villains and demons there is the Vidooshaka (Royal clown) who speaks three languages, Sanskrit, Prakrit (Crude form of Sanskrit), and the local dialect (Malayalam). His words and actions convincingly portray the true-character of the protagonist. In the past he was a social auditor. His diatribes against the establishment and those in power were a corrective force in the feudal-society. The main characters in Koodiyattam customarily enact 'Nirvahana'; a recollection of past events in the play to form a backdrop for stepping into the present.

'Nangiarkoothu' is the counterpart of Koodiyattam. It is in essence the Nirvahana of the female characters. Nangiar in forty one days enacts "Sreekrishna Charitam" (The story of Lord Krishna). She appears on stage as the Chedi (Maid) of Subhadra in the play, Subhadradhananjayam of king Kulasekhara. Theatre artists, choreographers and theatre researchers of the West and the East are keenly interested in the aesthetic-dimensions of both Koodiyattam and Nangiarkoothu. They come quite often to Kalamandalam for an intimate observation and analysis of these theatre traditions.


There is no precise historical evidence to establish the antiquity of Mohiniyatttam, the classical female dance-tradition of Kerala. Probably it was evolved in the seventeenth century. In the court of King Swathi Thirunal who ruled Travancore (South Kerala) in the 18th century, Mohiniyattam flourished along with Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The post-Swathy period witnessed the downfall of Mohiniyattam. 'The dance of the enchantress' slipped into eroticism to satisfy the epicurean-life of some provincial satraps and feudal Lords. Poet Vallathol rescued Mohiniyattam from total extinction. It was added to the curriculum of Kalamandalam in 1930.

The make-up and dressing of Mohiniyattam is simple and semi-realistic. The dancer's face is made up of yellow and pink-paste. She wears sandal coloured jacket and sari. Jasmin flowers adorn her tied up hair. She decorates her eyes with Kajal and the lips are reddened. The theme of Mohiniyattam is devotion to love of God. Vishnu or Krishna is more often the hero.

We feel his invisible presence when the heroine or her friend (sakhi) describes him through hand-gestures, delicate and circular body-movements


Thullal is the successor of Kathakali. Kunchan Nambiar who lived two centuries ago wrote the text of Thullal and choreographed it for the stage.

All the sixty plays of Thullal composed by Kunchan Nambiar are replete with humour, sarcasm and social criticism. Thullal has three divisions - Seethankan, Ottan and Parayan. The distinction between them lies mostly in the make-up and costums and to some extent in the metres and the rhythm used.Thullal often reflects the literary, artistic and cultural life of the medieval Kerala. In Thullal, episodes from the Indian Epics are retold in simple Malayalam poetry. The stylized singing of the lines carries with it the beauty of the Dravidian metres. Thullal is a solo performance. As a semi-stylized dance-theatre, Thullal is a more popular entertainment than other temple arts. The performer establishes easy rapport with the audience through verbal acting which is full of humour and social references.

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