''Poikkaal Kuthirai Aattam'' of Tamil Nadu - this folk dance needs revival!!

Poikkaal Kuthirai Aattam .pinterest.com
Poikkaal Kuthirai Aattam .pinterest.com
Representing  the culture and heritage of Tamil region, the folk dance of  Poikkal Kuthirai Attram nowadays is rarely performed in Tamil Nadu on the temple festival days. This dying art needs to be revived for our posterity. This art form had been here for a pretty long time and produced great performers. It used to be popular in villages as well as in towns. It is said that this type of dance using wooden legs was popularized by the  Maratha rulers of Thanjavur..  This  dance is performed in the northern states and  is called  Saithikoda in Orissa, Theelu Gurram in Andhra Pradesh, Kachikoti in Rajasthan and Kuthikali in Kerala.

Among the folk dances of Tamil Nadu, Poikkaal Kuthirai Aattam (poi - False, kaal - leg, Kuthirai – Horse) meaning horse dance with false legs- was once a famous one. In the 1950s 
and early 1960s, one could see a pair or more  performers both 
male and female performing Poikkal Kuthirai attam  to the accompanying music and drum beats  during the religious procession on the main streets. Sometimes, they would perform on certain festival occasions. As part of publicity, in the same period, movie theater owners would use these performers when a new movie was to be screened in their theater. Their show on the streets  would get the attention of the people about the new flick.
It is quite unfortunate, in the past  couple of decades personally, 
I haven seen Poikkal Kuthirai Attam either in my native  town 
or elsewhere. Positively, this folk art is on the decline and the present generation of young people  do not evince interest in our traditional folk dances. Further, with the departure of old teachers/Gurus, you seldom run into people who could teach this kind of dance.   
Poikkal Kuthirai Attam is a tough one and you need proper training. It is a unique  type of dance performed with a dummy horse having a gap inside so that a person can fit into it to perform the dance.. The performer will be wearing wooden stilts below their feet. 
Since the performer should have easy mobility, the dummy  horse with nice colors and other decorations is made of light-weighted materials (jute, cardboard, paper, and glass) and the cloth at the sides of the dummy swings to and fro covering the legs of the dancer. The colorful skirts  swing around with the movements of the dancers. Tie wooden legs (stilts)  should be securely tied to  their feet so that sound is produced  when they stamp  on the floor, quite similar to the  sound of he hooves of the horse. The dancer will normally brandish either a sword or a whip.  Poikkal Kuthirai Aatam is performed to the accompaniment of Naiyandi Melam.

The performers need a lot of training, it will take some time for them to walk on the  stilts (wooden legs) without loosing balance. Once they achieve the balance and  basic skill, then they should maneuver the body while wearing the stilts. If you keep wearing them for a long time, it is painful to the leg as well as to the whole body. In those days at many towns in Tamil Nadu, in particular, the delta districts, the road show was performed both by talented men and women   during religious festivals and provided  entertainment to the masses.  
Poikkaal Kuthirai Aattam .pinterest.com
Karagattam and Kavadi Aatam are closely associated with  the Hindu religion, but this Poikkal kuthirai Attam was  performed for entertainment as well as for religious processions. About this dance there are references in  the great Tamil work of  Ilangovadikal ''Sillapathikaram''(2nd centuryAD). Legend has it, when Goddess Durga was performing  dance, her enemies became jealous of her and wanted to kill her by taking the guise of poisonous snakes and scorpions.  Goddess Durga, as usual, performed the dances, this time the goddess was wearing a pair of stilts below her feet. The poisonous critters got crushed and killed.