Velakali is a folk dance of Kerala that has a martial art character and is commonly performed in connection with temple festivals of Kerala, a state in the southern region of India. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the abode of Lord Vishnu in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, will be conducting Velakali every year as part of the Painkuni festival, one of the two festivals in the temple.
Legend says that this ritual art form is conducted to symbolise the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas in which the Velakali dancers represent the Kauravas. It is said that it was in Ambalappuzha that Velakali is presumed to have its origion. Ambalapuzha was once the part of the local Kingdom of Chembakasserri. During the reign of Anizham Thirunal Marthandavarma Chembakasseri was annexed to Travancore.
It is also believed that Mathur Panikar, the chief of the army of Chembakasserri designed the art form to nurture the interest of the masses in martial arts. The steps of these dance form are reminiscent of soldiers’ movements, especially imitating the martial art of Kalaripayattu.
The elaborate costumes, swords and shields of Kalarippayattu are used as models in shaping the wooden weapons and costumes of Velakali. The art form is staged in accompaniment to a traditional orchestra. Dancers wear red turbans and dresses of soldiers of yore.