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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The traditional dances of Onam festival- Kaikottikali

The traditional dances of Onam festival include Kaikottikali (which is also calleThiruvathirakali), Kummattikali, Puli kali, Thumbi Thullal. Each of these dance styles are unique in nature and you can find them only in Kerala. The costumes and dance steps are also very rare and interesting.


Kaikottikali is a Ritual Art form practiced in Kerala. The specialty of this art form and its unique feature is that it is performed only by women and young maidens. Unlike Arjuna Nrityam and Kathakali, men are not involved in the dance and song that forms part of Kaikottikali . The Kaikottikali traditionally used to be performed on two special occasions – The Thiruvathirai and the Onam. Although nowadays, it is performed on other occasions and as stage programmes, the significance of the art is associated only with these two festivals. Thiruvathirai is a Mayalali festival falling around mid Jan. The women and young maidens take their fast called Noyamu in the morning. Late at night, as they keep vigil for Lord Shiva to arrive they entertain themselves by the Oonjalattom i.e. swinging on a swing and performing the Kaikottikali. This is why the art form is also known as Thiruvathirakali. The Malayali women celebrate the bumper harvest too by performing the Kaikottikali on the festive day of Onam. In the morning, the women deck in traditional attire and decorate the front yard and courtyard with flowerbeds (pookalam) and place a lighted lamp in the middle of this decoration. This arrangement is made near a Ganesha Idol. It is said to clear the way for prosperity. Around this flower decoration, the Kaikottikali is performed after the feast, Sadya. The special songs for Thiruvathira are called Thiruvaathirappattu. The song’s theme is often narrations from the folk epics. These themes are based on epics like Krishnaleela, Shakunthalam, Kuchelavritham and Dhruvacharithram. The songs are sung by the dancers themselves. During Onam however, the songs may include praises of King Mahabali, who as per legend, visits homes in Kerala on Onam. The most common ragams found in the Kaikottikali songs include the Hussaini, Bhairavi and Kamboji. The favorite deities sung about are Saraswati, Ganapathy and Krishna. The women dress in their traditional attire, the gold-bordered two piece attire of Mundu and Neriyathu. Mundu is worn around the waist while Neriyathu is worn over the blouse. The hair is worn in a simple bun and adorned with jasmine strings Style: The dance is performed by a group of 7-10 girls around a brass lighted lamp called the Nilavilakku. They sing and dance to the rhythm of the song also while clapping their hands. The dance is extremely graceful and requires precise footwork. They dance in a circular pattern around the lamp. The dance depict mainly the Lasya and to a slight extent the Tandava element of dance. The rhythmic movements than mudra are emphasised on in the Kaikottikali. With beautifully coordinated hand movement, the dancers move anti-clockwise first and then clockwise, clapping upwards and downwards in keeping with the beat of the song.

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