Padayani is a ritual theatre art form related to the Goddess temples in the Central Travancore regions of Kerala. Performed at night in the temple premises, the rituals of Padayani are a symbolic act for pleasing the Goddess Bhadrakali whose fury remains unabated even after her victory over the mythical demon, Darikan. The duration of the festivals varies from seven to 28 days according to the number of villages participating and organising it.
The word Padayani evolved from the combination of two Malayalam words Pada and ani, which means a group of soldiers and rows respectively. Padayani, which means 'row of warriors' is believed to have been performed by warriors trained in Kalaripayattu to display their strength and chivalry in order to frighten their enemies from the southern part of Travancore. Thus this art form traces back to the rich martial art tradition of Kalaripayattu.
It is also a thanksgiving for a good harvest which the villagers believed was not possible without the blessings of Gods and Goddesses. In its spirit and content, Padayani takes the form and style of an epic theater. It also characterises an act of purification carried out by the villagers in all devotion to ward off evil forces.