Kalamezhuthu from Kerala: An Art with a Difference

(Image Courtesy: Joshi Daniel Photography)

In India when it comes to celebrations and festivals; every aspect of it is somewhere or the other related to the ritual art forms and the cultural traditions. The art of creating large pictures and abstract designs on the floor using coloured powders is celebrated in India as a ritual art form. This art of painting is commonly known as Rangoli. One such art of painting floors is the “Kalamezhuthu art” from Kerala, an art with a difference!!!

In Malayalam, the literal meaning of “kalam” is a picture and “ezhuthu” is the act of drawing. Kalamezhuthu is the unique Indian art form practised only in Kerala, prominently in South Kerala. It is also known as dhulee chithram or powder drawing. It is a harmonic blend of Aryan, Dravidian and tribal Indian traditions in association with scared grooves and tantric elements. Kalamezhuthu is essentially a temple art. The patterns to be drawn and the colours are traditionally stipulated, and the tradition is strictly adhered to. As an art form it has found a significant place among our rich spectrum of fine arts. Kalamezhuthu is a forty day ritualistic festival beginning with the first of Vrishchikam (Scorpio) in most Bhagavathy temples in Kerala. This art is practised in temples as well as noble households and is considered as a symbol of welcoming the deities.

The Mythological Story:

(Image Courtesy: Kerala Taxis)

It is said that when the demons Dharukan and Dhanavendran underwent severe penance they were granted a privilege by Lord Shiva that they wouldn’t be vanquished by any man. Additionally, every drop of blood spilled on earth will give birth to hundreds of other demons. The grant of these wishes emboldened them and they created havoc in all the three worlds. When Lord Shiva got to know of this, he opened his third eye and created the fierce Kali who was an incarnation of Shakti, wife of Shiva. Kali being a woman could kill them, and when the blood spilled, she drank all of it before it touched the ground. Thus, she vanquished them all. Narada went to Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and recounted the victorious battle between Kali and the Demons. While narrating, he drew a terrifying illustration of the events, thus giving birth to the “Kalamezhuthu art”.

The Making of Kalamezhuthu:

(Image Courtesy: Picssr)

Kalamezhuthu art is painted skillfully using colored powders. The legends are mainly associated with Goddess Kali, who is considered as the central depiction of the art. The colors are made using natural pigments and powders only, usually in five colors. The colors are extracted from the leaf of green plants(green), charcoal powder(black), rice flour(white), turmeric powder(yellow), burnt husk(brown), a mixture of lime and turmeric (red), hibiscus or other pink flowers (pink) etc. It takes more than 2 hours to complete the intricate designs of a Kalamezhuthu drawing with perfection. The drawing is done with bare hands without using any tools.  The artist starts drawing Kalamezhuthu pictures from the center, growing outwards, patch by patch. The powder is spread in the floor, letting it in a thin stream between the thumb and the index finger. It is then decorated with a canopy of palm fronds, garlands made of hibiscus flowers and osmium leaves.

The Kalamezhuthu Ritual:

(Image Courtesy: Vasundhara Sarovar Premiere)

The drawing of a ‘Kalamezhuthu art’ is started at an appointed time and it is erased immediately after the rituals related to it are over. The figures were drawn usually have an expression of anger or other emotions. Kalamezhuthu artists are generally members of communities like the Kurups, Theyyampadi Nambiars, Theeyadi Nambiars and Theeyadi Unnis. The kalams drawn by these people differ in certain characteristics. Lighting is of utmost importance in these rituals. Only oil lamps are used. Folk and ritual songs accompanied with classical musical instruments like ilathalam, veekkan chenda, kuzhal, kombu, and chenda are sung on the completion of Kalam. These songs are sung in the worship of the deity. The songs vary from folk to classical depending on the deity being worshiped.


One comment

  1. Very interesting. I feel you have made valuable and legitimate points with this writing. I agree with you one hundred percent and am glad I had the opportunity to see this.

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