Velakali, the martial dance form of Kerala

This dance form represents wars of ancient times on land and sea


The music and the moves point to a battle scenario. The dancers clad in the traditional clothes and (red) colorful headgear of the medieval soldiers. This dance uses music which is a combination of the maddalam, ilathalam, kombu and kuzhal. And the performance of this art is usually in a temple courtyard.  Moreover the dancers carry a painted shield in the left hand, along with a stick called Churikakkol in their right hand. As a result the moves resemble actions in a battlefield.

In connection with the annual Painkuni festival that falls in March-April, there are performance of this art at the famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. Hence because if you are from Thiruvananthapuram, this might be one of your childhood memories. These dance and beats of Velakali is an unforgettable experience.

Velakali Dancer

The Origin

The origin of Velakali  dates back to the Ambalappuzha Chempakasseri kingdom. And their hereditary commanders-in-chief  were the Mathoor Panickers and Velloor Kurups. Hence we can assume that their sensibilities lead to this art form from the elements of the battlefield. Because the movement and stances, have shades of Kalaripayattu and Kathakali, the relationship is symbiotic.

The story in connection with Velakali is adorable. Once Sage Narada saw Sri Krishna playing a mock battle with his cowherd friends. Which was using stalks and leaves of the water lily as daggers and shields. And because Narada was so impressed with the charming display that he requested Sage Villvamangalam to adapt it into a martial art form. This request is moreover shared with Chempakasseri Raja. And it was thus that the Mathoor kalari became the grooming ground for this spectacular and refined art form. Thus Ambalappuzha Velakali is the first and foremost, as an offering before Lord Krishna, the presiding deity of Ambalappuzha.

Do check out the video below…

Mayesh Babu