Christian Artforms – An Amalgamation of Art and Culture in Kerala

Christian Artforms - An Amalgamation of Art and Culture in Kerala

Kerala is diversified by religions but unified by art. Every art has its own power that captures hearts irrespective of caste and creed. Christian artforms are typical examples of this.

The third most popular religion in Kerala- Christianity is rich with unique art and culture.  The Christian artforms of Kerala are an amalgamation of Christian as well as Indian culture. These are performed mostly as part of Christian festivals and wedding ceremonies. They influence the music, literature and culture of Kerala and vice verse.

When one discusses Christian artforms, Margam Kali is the first one that comes to mind. Being a popular event in art festivals and wedding ceremonies, Margam Kali performances are a delight to watch with its rapid rhythmic steps and music. The performances are usually done by 12 women performers wearing their traditional attire, consisting of chatta, mundu, kavini, mekka mothiram, and bangles. The Margam Kali Pattu is usually sung by a single person with the support of a chorus.

Chavittu Natakam is a colourful folk artform prominent among the Christian community. With its flamboyant costume, elaborate makeup, loud gestures and actions, the artform has gained popular interest. It is believed that the Portuguese introduced this artform to Kerala. Chinna Thampi Pilla and Vedanayakan Pilla are considered to be the early practitioners who popularised this art form. Stamping of the floor while dancing producing resonating sounds is the main attraction of this artform. This stamping gave it the title Stamping Drama or Chavittu Natakam. Chavittu Natakam makes use of musical instruments like Chenda, Padathamber, Maddalam and Ilathalam. Nowadays Tabala, Fiddle, and Flute are also used.

Parichamuttu Kali is a typical example of Indian influence on Christian artforms. It is similar to the martial artform of Kerala, Kalaripayattu. While performing Parichamuttu Kali, performers with a small sword and a round shield in their hands, gather around a traditional lamp, repeat the song sung by the asan (team head) and touch the shields in a particular rhythm.

A ritual artform popular in the coastal areas of Kerala from as early as the 16th century is Devastha Vili. In this ritual, the songs are performed in candlelight at night.  This artform is linked with the ‘Passion of Christ’.

Besides these, Vattakali, Poovirakkom, Kolkali,Valattu Paricha Veeshu Kali, Kadal Vanchipattu and Slama Carol are also art forms popular in the Christian tradition. Thus the choices of artforms in Christianity are many like the tradition, culture and the heritage that it holds.

Kreupasanam Pauranika Renga Kalapeedam, Alappuzha and Chaithanya Pastoral Centre, Kottayam are two cultural academies and training centers of folk and ancient Christian art forms in Kerala.

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