Kerala, more than any other state in India, has numerous communities of ‘ritual painters’ and ceremonies associated with ephemeral floor paintings. In Malayalam, the paintings as well as the ceremony are known as "kalam", which is best transcribed in English as Kalam Eluttum, literally “writing, drawing on the threshing yard” or Kalam Eluttum Pattum, literally "to draw and sing the kalam". They are often anthropomorphic images and the officiating painter embodies the divine, who may be experienced through sight and touch.

Almost invisible, the kalam are not conspicuous to the morning walker’s gaze. They are drawn in privacy and focus the attention of the family within the home, and of devotees in temple premises. The paintings featuring deities with vegetal colours are executed directly on the ground and provide support within ceremonies that pay homage to Bhadrakali, to Ayyappan, the lord of Sabarimala and to serpent-gods. They are also an essential element of rituals addressing village or minor deities such as Kama,Gandharva, Yaksha, Yakshi, and dark entities.