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Kerala, God’s Own Country, has a unique culture and tradition which it has managed to keep alive through the centuries. Despite being a popular trading center for spices and cotton, Kerala continues to outshine the other neighbors in culture and talent too. Kerala’s own martial art, Kalarippayattu has already become world renowned. Ayurveda is another popular tradition which is still alive in Kerala. Another interesting factor that attracts the art and culture enthusiasts to this state is the vivid and rich Kerala Temple Dance. Even though Kathakali and Mohiniyattom remain the most popular performing temple art forms, there are much more like Krishnanattom and Arjuna Nritham that offer a completely different cultural view of the state. Here’s some more interesting information about these dances – when Krishna and Arjuna dance!



A photoPhoto by manoj_k_mohan

Krishnanattam is a Kerala temple dance drama which depicts the story of Lord Krishna. It was created by Manaveda, a Zamorin of Calicut, during the 17th century. It is performed as an offering to the Lord for various reasons from child birth to matrimony and well-being. The Sanskrit text based on which the entire performance happens is called Krishnageethi. It usually has 8 plays as below:


  • Avataram – Child Birth
  • Kaliyamardanam – To do away with the consequence of poisoning
  • Rasakrida – For single girls and blissful matrimony
  • Kamsavadham – To get rid of enemies
  • Swayamvaram – For blissful matrimony
  • Banayuddham – For prosperity & better yield
  • Vividavadham – For prosperity & better yield
  • Swargarohanam – For the peace of a deceased soul


At Guruvayoor Sree Krishna Temple, and some other Krishna temples you can book for Krishnanattam performance as an offering to Lord Krishna. Artists will perform the offering you have booked and Pooja will also be performed in the temple during the night booked. The costume and makeup are similar to that of Kathakali. The dance and music are quite similar requiring rigorous training and practice as Kathakali.


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Arjuna Nritham

arjuna photoPhoto by infiniteys

This is another beautiful dance form which is also related to the Mahabharata era. The strong and stout Arjuna is seen dancing in front of Bhadrakali to appease her after the Kurukshetra war. Arjuna Nritham is also known as Mayilpeeli Thookkam as the costume is lined with peacock feathers or Mayilpeeli. The attire and makeup are similar to that of Kathakali. But the dance is rigorous and rhythmic and performed in front of Devi, lighting a lamp. The dance is more inclined towards Kalarippayattu. The characters are typically Arjuna, Krishna and the rest of the Pandavas who fought the Kurukshetra war.

Arjuna Nritham is as old Kerala temple dance as Mahabharata since it has been mentioned in the epic that Arjuna indeed danced in front of Bhadrakali after conquering over the Kauravas in the war. It is exclusively performed by men with strong and quick steps similar to Kalarippayattu. Even though it is not as popular as Kathakali, it is still being revived by the government of Kerala and the local artists.

Special performances of Krishnanattom and Arjuna Nritham are arranged for the tourists who come exclusively to explore Kerala temple dance forms. Like Kathakali and Kalarippayattu, these dance forms also require rigorous training and efforts to learn and perform live. The story is briefly introduced before the dance so that the audience can relate to the performance better. The mudras may be difficult to understand but the facial expressions will make it easier to comprehend the feelings and emotions expressed. The makeup highlights the eyes and lips since these are used the most to express the emotions. So next time you are in Kerala, don’t miss Krishna and Arjuna’s dance.

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Featured Photo by dalbera

Kerala Temple Dance – Krishnanattam And Arjuna Nritham

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