The tradition of classical arts in Kerala dates back to a thousand years. Koodiyattam, a dance-drama associated with temple rituals is perhaps the oldest of these, This art form was recently selected by UNESCO as one among the 'Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity'.The best time to enjoy the performing arts of Kerala is during January and February, the time of temple festivals.
Kathakali: popular as the art form of Kerala has been referred to as 'the first theater of imagination' of the world owing to its elaborate costumes, ornaments and facial make-up.
Mohiniyattom: the dance of the enchantress, reflects the graceful nature of the land. The movements of the dancer have been compared to the palms swaying in the gentle breeze and the sweeping waves which are so much a part of Kerala's lush landscape.
Thullal: another classical art form is social satire at its best, and keeps the audience in a constant state of merriment. Ottanthullai, Parayanthullai and Seethanganthullal are the three different forms of Thullal.
Kerala has a rich repertoire of folk performing arts, folk songs and folk drama reflecting man's overpowering rapport with nature and his constant desire for communication with the unknown. The tribals of Kerala, adivasis (the first native people), keep alive a folklore tradition in the eco-friendly life they lead and the natural pharmacy they practice. Theyyam, Tbira, Mudiyettu, Kaduvakali, vetakali, Kakkarissi, Natakom, Chavittunatakam, Margamkali, Koikali, Parichamuttukali, Bhadrakalipattu, Pulluvanpattu, Thiruvatbirakati and so on are only a few of Kerala's folk art forms, some of them being ritual arts.
Theyyam exists in four hundred different forms. The brilliantly painted masks worn by the artistes of Theyyam, Padayani and so on are fine examples of the crafts of Kerala, The masks and headgear of Thewam symbolize social consciousness and a sense of morality.
Theyyam or Theyyaattam is a pattern of hero worship performed in Kolathunaad, a territory comprising the present Cannanore District and Badagara Taluk of Kerala State. It is a ritual and a folk-dance form supported by a vast literature of folk songs. Theyyam is a corruption for Deyvam ‘God’. 'Aattam' means dance. Thus 'Theyyaattam' means the God’s Dance.
In Kolathunaad and other places (Southern portion of Kolathunaad), Theyyam is known as Thira or Thirayaattam. There, the performance is conducted on a masonry stage called Thara and the word Tharayaattam was probably changed into Thirayaattam in course of time. The term Thirayaattam itself may mean beautiful dance.
The person who plays and personifies the deity is generally called ‘Kolam’. The word Kolam means figure or shape or make-up in Tamil and Malayalam. In Tulunad, north of Kolathunaad, the custom of Kolam dance is widely prevalent as a form of worship of the Bhootas or spirits. There, the dance was conducted before the sthaanams, where the Bhoothas or the spirits used to reside.
As the result of Aryan colonization of Thuluva and Kolathunaad, the Brahmanical religion became deep rooted in this territory. The Brahminic concepts of Gods and deities were accepted by the indigenous people of Kolathunaad. But even then the old folk-cult of Velan Veriyat and spirit worship remained as a system of worship for the native. The rituals remained unchanged and the tradition was not abandoned by the people. Vishnumoorthi, Pottan, Chaamundi, Rakteshwari and Bhagavathi became new deities for the village folk of Kolathunaad along with their primitive deities of spirits and heroes.
The cult of Bhagavathi became so dominant in the social life of Kolathunaad that no village of this area could be found without a shrine or kaavu of a Bhagavathi. The Bhagavathi at Maappiticheri was known as Maappiticheri Bhagavathi and the Bhagavathi at Kannangot was known as Kannangot Bhagavathi. Many of these Bhagavathis have their own Theyyaattam or Thirayaattam at their shrines as annual festivals. Some of these Bhagavathis have big temples and daily offerings strictly conforming to the Brahmanical ritualism.