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Kerala Ritual Art forms

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Kerala Ritual Art Forms

THEYYAM

A ritual dance form of Kerala, glorifying the goddess. Themes revolve around the triumph of the goddess over the demon Daruka and other evil characters. Always performed by men, they also enact female roles wearing exotic make up and colorful costumes.

Theyyam also known as Kaaliyattam, it is a ritual dance popular in north Kerala or the erstwhile Kolathunadu. Theyyam incorporates dance, mime and music and enshrines the rudiments of ancient tribal cultures which attached great importance to the worship of heroes and the spirits of ancestors. Of the over 400 Theyyams performed, the most spectacular ones are those of Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, Wayanadu Kulaveni, Gulikan and Pottan. These are performed in front of shrines, sans stage or curtains, by persons belonging to the Vannan, Malayan and other related castes.

‘Thudangal’ (the beginning) and ‘Thottam’ (the invocation) are the introductory rituals of the Theyyam or the Thira, as it is known in south Malabar. The headgear and other ornamental decorations are spectacular in sheer size and appearance. Karivalloor, Nileswaram, Kurumathoor, Parassini, Cherukunnu, Ezhom and Kunnathoorpadi in north Malabar are places where Theyyams are performed annually from December to April.

PATAYANI

Patayani is a week- long ritual dance, held in Kaali temples on the banks of the Pamba river during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Medam (March – April). The choice theme of the dancers is the slaying of the demon Daarikan by the goddess Kaali. The steps and movements of the dance vary according to each Kolam or character. Thappu is the major percussion instrument accompanied by a few Chendas. Patayani masks are made with the fresh spathe of arecanut palms. Bhairavi (Bhadrakaali), Yakshi, Pakshi (bird) and Kaalari (Siva) are the main characters. Various communities targetted for criticism are represented by jestures. Kadammanitta, Kadalimangalam and Othara in Pathanamthitta district are famous for annual Patayani performances.

POOTHANU MTHIRAYUM

This ritual offering to Goddess Kaali is performed in many places of South Malabar. A troupe of dancers dress up as Kaali (the Thira) and the accompanying spirits (the Poothams) who were created along with the goddess for the destruction of the evil demon, Daarikan. The Thira wear masks while the spirits don semi-circular wooden crowns. The dance is performed from house to house and on the premises of village shrines between November and May every year.

MUDIYETTU

Mudiyettu is a ritual dance performed in some Kaali temples of Ernakulam and Kottayam districts (central Kerala). The dance celebrates the goddess’s triumph over the demon Daarikan. Mudiyettu is performed by the Kuruppu or Marar who belong to the temple bound communities of Kerala.  The Kalamezhuthu, a ritual drawing of the goddess Kaali is made on the floor with dyed powders, before the performance. Then the chorus sings hymns in praise of the goddess.

Before the actual performance, the dancer erases the Kalam with tender palm fronds. The performer in the role of Kaali is aided by ‘Koimpata Nayar’, the local guide and Kooli, the attendant.  Legends say that Daarikan, the epitome of evil, challenged Kaali to a duel. Kaali slayed Daarikan, with the blessings and grace of Lord Siva.

The performers of Mudiyettu are all heavily made up and wear gorgeous attire with conventional facial paintings, tall headgears etc, to give a touch of the supernatural. The wooden headgear has a mask of Kaali. An ornamental red vest and a long white cloth around the waist complete the attire

KOOTHU

Patayani is a week- long ritual dance, held in Kaali temples on the banks of the Pamba river during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Medam (March – April). The choice theme of the dancers is the slaying of the demon Daarikan by the goddess Kaali. The steps and movements of the dance vary according to each Kolam or character. Thappu is the major percussion instrument accompanied by a few Chendas. Patayani masks are made with the fresh spathe of arecanut palms. Bhairavi (Bhadrakaali), Yakshi, Pakshi (bird) and Kaalari (Siva) are the main characters. Various communities targetted for criticism are represented by jestures. Kadammanitta, Kadalimangalam and Othara in Pathanamthitta district are famous for annual Patayani performances.

ARJUNA NIRTHAM

Arjuna nritham (the dance of Arjuna) is a ritual art performed by men and is prevalent in the Bhagavathy temples of Kerala. Arjuna, the most valiant of the five heroic brothers – the Pandavas – of the epic Mahabharatha, was also a renowned singer and dancer and is said to have propitiated goddess Bhadrakaali by a devotional presentation.

Arjuna nritham is also called Mayilppeeli nritham as the costume includes a characteristic garment made of mayilppeeli (peacock feathers). This garment is worn around the waist in a similar fashion as the uduthukettu of Kathakali . The performers have their faces painted green and wear distinctive headgears. The all night performance of the dance form is usually presented solo or in pairs.

The songs which are strictly rhythm based are called Kavithangal and deal with various themes of the Puranas (ancient Hindu scriptures). Each Kavitham is composed to suit a specific rhythm. Before each song the dancers explain the intricacies of the particular rhythm about to be employed and how this rhythm is translated into dance movements.  The various dance movements are closely similar to Kalarippayattu techniques. Percussion instruments like the chenda, maddalam, talachenda and ilathalam (cymbal) form the musical accompaniment.

KANNYAR KALI

Kannyarkali, also known as Desathukali, is a folk art exclusively practised by the Nair community of the Palakkad area. It owes its origin to the pursuit of martial arts in this region which was under constant threat of attack from neighbouring Konganadu.

Kannyarkali was born when dance and comedy were pitched in to add vigour and colour to the martial training sessions. The art form combines the agile movements of martial arts with the rhythmic grace of folk dance performed around a nilavilakku.  Performed during March-April in temples as well as in places called the ‘ Thara’, a venue for informal gatherings, this art form is accompanied by devotional folk songs and the loud beat of percussion instruments. The orchestra includes ilathalam or cymbal and percussion instruments like chenda, maddalam, edakka and udukku.

A team of Kannyarkali dancers varies from six to twenty in number and a performances usually lasts for four days. Each day’s performance is known by a different name: Iravakali, Anadikoothu, Vallon and Malama. The last day’s performance is presented by hill tribes, in which women also participate.

VELA KALI

Patayani is a week- long ritual dance, held in Kaali temples on the banks of the Pamba river during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Medam (March – April). The choice theme of the dancers is the slaying of the demon Daarikan by the goddess Kaali. The steps and movements of the dance vary according to each Kolam or character. Thappu is the major percussion instrument accompanied by a few Chendas. Patayani masks are made with the fresh spathe of arecanut palms. Bhairavi (Bhadrakaali), Yakshi, Pakshi (bird) and Kaalari (Siva) are the main characters. Various communities targetted for criticism are represented by jestures. Kadammanitta, Kadalimangalam and Othara in Pathanamthitta district are famous for annual Patayani performances.

KALAM EZHUTHU

The kalam is a unique drawing also called dhulee chithram or powder drawing. The artist uses the floor as his canvas. Kalamezhuthu pattu is performed as part of the rituals to worship and propitiate gods like Kaali, Ayyappan or Vettakkorumakan.

This ritualistic art is a common feature of temples as well as noble households. The kalams or drawings are erased at the end of the ritual to the accompaniment of musical instruments like ilathalam, veekkan chenda, kuzhal, kombu and chenda.  The coloured powders used for the kalam are prepared from natural products only. The pigments are extracted from plants – rice flour (white), charcoal powder (black), turmeric powder (yellow), powdered green leaves (green), and a mixture of turmeric powder and lime (red). It often takes more than two hours to finish a kalam drawing with appealing perfection. Decorations like a canopy of palm fronds, garlands of red hibiscus flowers and thulasi or Ocimum leaves are hung above the kalam.

The figures drawn usually have an expression of anger, and other emotions. Kalamezhuthu artists are generally members of communities like the Kurups, Theyyampadi Nambiars, Theeyadi Nambiars and Theeyadi Unnis. The kalams drawn by these people differ in certain characteristics.  The Kalamezhuthu is a forty-day ritualistic festival beginning with the first of Vrischikam (Scorpio) in most Bhagavathy temples in Kerala

MARGOM KALI

Margomkali is a ritual folk art of the Syrian Christians of Kottayam and Thrissur districts. A dozen dancers sing and dance around a lighted wick lamp ( Nilavilakku), clad in the simple traditional white dhoti and sporting a peacock feather on the turban to add a touch of colour.

This is an allegorical enactment with the lamp representing Christ and the performers his disciples. The performance is usually held in two parts and begins with songs and dances narrating the life of St.Thomas, the apostle. It then takes a striking turn with a martial play of artificial swords and shields.  The narration is stark without musical accompaniments. The songs date back to a period much before the Portuguese invasion. Today, Margomkali is only performed as a stage item by women.

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