Kalam, ritual ground-paintings from Kerala

Posted by Chantal Jumel


In Kerala, these paintings are called “Kalam eluttu“. They are a significant part of larger rituals that may include dancing, chanting and dramatic elements. Unlike Tamil-Nadu, the ritual painters are mostly men who belong to specific communities and conduct ceremonies using anthropomorphic representations of deities. These rites fulfil many diverse purposes. In general, in all traditions of KalamEluttu, there is the central idea of expiation and purification for having broken a vow, for having neglected religious duties or for having transgressed rules.


The world of kalam offers a comprehensive insight into adornment and prosperity rituals and presents information about the worship of goddess, snake and various other deities in South India. It also provides invaluable material on indigenous systems of medicine, on colours, on hand techniques, on traditional measurements and proportions in the drawing of divinities. Some ground-painting traditions contain theatrical features and dance patterns that are displayed in classical forms such as Kathakali (a Kerala dance-drama).