The Thullal is a satiric solo performance evolved in the 18th century. It involves dance and recitation of stories in verse. Humour, satire and social criticism are the distinctive features of Thullal.
Thullal was introduced by renowned poet Kunchan Nambiar. There are three versions of the art form - Seethankan Thullal, Parayan Thullal and Ottan Thullal - with separate costumes. Ottan Thullal is the most popular among them.
Thullal has links with Padayani, a ritual art form popular in Central Kerala. Padayani has different dance styles like Urali Thullal, Kolam Thullal and Pooppada Thullal. The names of the Thullal versions are drawn from Padayani.
In the beginning, Thullal was performed by members of the Nambiar community. Later, members of other communities too started learning the art form. The Thullal training includes exercises for the flexibility of the body. Chuvadu Sadhakam, Mudra Sadhakam and Mukhanga Sadhakam are the different sets of exercises.
The artiste sings, dances and uses gestures for story telling. The music lays much focus on rhythm. Mridangam and Kaimani are the instruments. Earlier, Thoppi Maddalam was used in place of Mridangam. The talas include Adantha, Chembada, Chamba, Panchari, Ekam, Karika, Lakshmi, Kundanachi and Kumbham.
The Thullal dancer is supported by two percussion artists who repeat the former's verses. The artist wears a green make-up on the face and his eyes are reddened by applying a flower and then made up with black eyeliners. The colourful costume includes a crown and the ornaments are Kazhutharam, Koralaram, Maramala, Nenjupalaka, Tholpoottu, Hasthakadakam, Kankanam and Kachamani.
Kunchan Nambiar's famous works are "Nalacharitham", "Kiratham", "Ghoshayatra", "Syamanthakam", "Rugmini Swayamvaram", "Ramanucharitham", "Bakavadham", "Ravanolbhavam", "Balivijayam", "Banayudham" and "Ahalyamoksham".
Other prominent works include "Airavanavadham" by Ramapurathu Warrier, "Panchali Swayamvaram" by Venmani Mahan Nambudiripad, "Kaliyamardanam" by K. P. Karuppan, "Sreesankaravilasam" by Kottarathil Sankunni and "Ramayanam" by Kodungallur Kochunni Thampuran.