"Thiruvathirakali" - Kerala's ancient dance form is on the decline. It needs to be rejuvenated


Thiruvathirakali, Kerala's indigenous and  most ancient  dance form  is a ritualistic one  with a mix of  grace, rhythm and elegance performed  with finesse by women with enthusiasm and dedication 

 It is performed on the auspicious day of Thiruvathira, on full Moon day, the birthday of Lord Shiva and the performers are  women who seek blessings for eternal marital bliss and family welfare. 

Following in the month of  Dhanu (December-January) according to Malayalam Calendar Thiruvathirakali  owes its origins to the festival of Thiruvathira that falls in the same month.  It also goes by the name of   Kaikottikali, one of the most primal dance forms of Kerala,  and is   ''performed in a circle with a lit lamp placed in the middle,” 

Kerala's ancient dance form Thiruvathirakali

Its origin goes  several centuries back  similar to the dance performed by  prehistoric people  around the fire, moving in a circle. The associated  primordial dance movements have similar patterns. Yet another version of this dance is called  Kaikottikali, in which performers while dancing, clap their hands with rhythm.  

In Thiruvathirakali  correct  steps and rhythms count a lot and girls are trained from the early childhood under an authentic gurus mostly male. In the rich aristocratic families much emphasis is  paid to  learning Thiruvathirakali and  teachers -  Assans are invited to the household to teach the young girls in the privacy of their home. 

Though these  well trained teachers  are never known to perform on stages, they are well versed in the nuances of this ancient dance form a nd excel in the art of teaching and bring out the highlights.  But for them and in-depth practical knowledge, the art of  Thiruvathirakali would not have been preserved and passed on to the next generation. It is through these teachers of ancient forms the culture and ethos of Kerala stay alive as of today.     

This dance ritual is performed  with freedom on the day of Thiruvathira by womenfolks without any inhibition or restricted by social taboos, This rare occasion offers them a chance to  socialise and celebrate the event with joy. The advantage is the women get a respite from the  monotonous mundane daily chores and be free from household commitments. 

Going to the village pond  at midnight to bathe there and engage in the festivities till the sunrise in the morning, is part of this event  and the women get a chance to engage themselves in the group entertainment.    

Surprisingly  in South and North Kerala. Thiruvathirakali is performed in different styles and the former  one is a sort of variation such as  Kolaattam in which women hold small  brightly  colored sticks in their hands and strike them  against each other.   Thalam Vechattam, another variant, is an interesting one and in this version  women dance with small brass plates (thalam) in their hands and produce rhythmic sound - Thalam.  Kudam Vechattam is similar to Thalam Vechattam, in which performing women  carry a small pot (kudam) on their heads while dancing. The  Pinnalaattam, is a bit complicated one and is performed carefully with keen observation and  dexterity.  This kind of dance is held either under a spacious shed or shamina or  under trees if it is performed in the open air.

Kerala: Thiruvathirakali -Kolattam .thehindu.com

Kerala: Thiruvathirakali- Pinnalaatam

Pinnalaattam needs patience and proper planning  Strong strings  are tied from the pole of the shed or from the branch of the tree  at a specific interval and each one is held by a performer. Through manipulation and graceful rhythmic movements   attractive patterns are woven in successions with the strings as the women in a circle move in tandem holding the strings in their hands.

Researchers or experts are of the opinion that the  roots of of some of these dance ancient forms and the accompanying ritual of Thiruvathira could be  dated back to the Tamil Sangam period, the main center of it was Madurai, TN. The Sangam period or, saṅkakālam  - the third Sangam period, is the period of the history of ancient Tamil Nadu, Kerala and parts of Sri Lanka (then known as Tamilakam) dating back to c.6th century BC.

The  literary works from the Sangam period   made mention of   similar rituals and dances  by  women and young girls, and they were held o the accompaniment of  specific music and dance movements.  In the case of Mohiniyattam, an  indigenous dance form for which Kerala is famous, the steps/ footwork and gait (chari- way of walking) being followed in Mohiniyattam is said to be rooted in Thiruvathirakali.

Natanakairali, the cultural organisation based at Irinjalakuda. provides an opportunity to those who are interested in these native dance forms that need to be preserved for the posterity because they are intertwined with our long held tradition and native culture. i believe December- january is the right time to approach the organization.

Once enjoyed a prominent place in the society along with other festivities like Onam, Thiruvathirakali’ that is held on the day of  Thiruvathira  has lost much of its attraction and glory and now the dance events are turned into mere stage shows in schools and colleges. With the advent of multiple TV channels and other entertainments Thiruvathirakali dance events take place as part of competition among the schools and colleges and such events hang on to the age old tradition which is slowly dying. Even the ponds in the villages where women were allowed to bathe on the auspicious day of  Thiruvathira, are no longer there. They are either dried up or converted into hopping complex. In the morass of modernity lost are our old values, long held traditions, fine arts and culture. Once lost, we can't get them back.  For details read: (http://www.navrangindia.in/2019/12/thiruvathirakali-or-kaikottikaliis.html)