FOLK DANCES OF TAMIL NADU
Folk dances of particular region in India have both regional autonomy and features that are common to other parts of India – while the ecology, environment and agricultural functions give distinctiveness; legend, myth and literature unite them to other parts. The dances have survived through many centuries of Indian History and have provided continuity to the Indian tradition that is not stagnant, as it is constantly adapting itself to new conditions and assimilating influences. Pliability and flexibility is of the essence: scope for self-expression, improvisation is the secret of their survival.
Tamil Nadu developed the art of entertainment to its pristine heights at early age. Nadakam (Drama) has roots in the rural folk theatre like Therukoothu. Majority of these dances are still thriving in Tamil Nadu today.
The more celebrated forms of village folk dances are:
Karagams were once performed
for mulaipari ceremony when the dancer carried a pot of sprouted grains
on his/her head and danced, balancing it through intricate steps and body/arm
movements. Today, the pots have transformed from mud pots to bronzeware and
even stainless steel in modern times. The pots are decorated with a cone of
flower arrangements, topped by a paper parrot. The parrot rotates as the
dancer swings along. This dance is very popular all over Tamil Nadu, though
its birthplace is said to be Thanjavur. Most artistes hail from Thanjavur,
Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Pattukottai and Salem. This
dance most is often a solo or a duet. Both male and female performers
participate in this. Acrobatics similar to circus are included – such as
dancing on a rolling block of wood, up and down a ladder, threading a needle
while bending backwards and so on.
Kummi is one of the most important and ancient forms of village dances of Tamil Nadu. It originated when there were no musical instruments, with the participants clapping their hands to keep time. Women perform this; many varieties of Kummi, such as, Poonthatti Kummi, Deepa Kummi, Kulavai Kummi, Kadir Kummi, Mulaipari Kummi, etc. are known. The women stand in a circle and dance clapping their hands rhythmically to songs with catching tunes. This dance is usually performed during temple festivals, Pongal – the harvest festival, family functions like the one to celebrate the coming of age of the girl-child, etc. The first line of the song is sung by the leading lady, which the others repeat.
This is done by girls dressed as peacocks, resplendent with peacock feathers and a glittering head-dress complete with a beak. This beak can be opened and closed with the help of a thread tied to it, and manipulated from within dress. Other similar dances are, Kaalai Attam (dressed as a bull), Karadi Attam (dressed as a bear) and Aali Aattam (dressed as a demon) that are performed in the villages during village get-togethers. Vedala Aattam is performed wearing a mask depicting demons.
Kolaattam is an ancient village art. This is mentioned in Kanchipuram as 'Cheivaikiyar Kolattam', which proves its antiquity. Women only perform this, with two sticks held in each hand, beaten to make a rhythmic noise. Pinnal Kolaattam is danced with ropes that the women hold in their hands, the other of which are tied to a tall pole. With planned steps, the women skip over each other, which forms intricate lace-like patterns in the ropes. As colored ropes are used, this lace looks extremely attractive. Again, they unravel this lace reversing the dance steps. This is performed for ten days, starting with the Amavasi or Newmoon night after Deepavali.
This is an ancient folk dance form popular in Trichy, Salem, Dharmapuri, Coimbatore and Periyar Districts. No other musical instruments are used in this dance except the ankle-bells. Men only perform this dance, during temple festivals. Stories and episodes centering on Murugan and Valli are depicted in the songs. As one of the rare folk art forms of ancient Tamil nadu, the Telugu speaking people of the northern districts are practising this now.
The ancient Tamils when they
went on pilgrimage carried the offerings to the gods’ tied on the either end
of the long stick, which was balanced on the shoulders. In order to lessen the
boredom of the long travel they used to sing and dance about the gods. Kavadi
Aattam has its origin in this practice. Special songs were created to be sung
while carrying the Kavadi Sindhu. Only men perform this dance. It is done by
balancing a pole with pots fixed on either end, filled with milk or coconut
water. The poles are made from Purasai or Teak wood. On top, bamboo strips are
bent like a half-moon, covered with saffron cloth and further decorated on the
sides with peacock feathers. This is mainly a religious dance, performed in
worship of Lord Murugan, the second son of Siva. Pambai and Naiyandi Melam
accompany the dance.
This is the Dummy Horse Dance where the dancer bears the dummy figure of a horse's body on his/her hips. This is made of light-weighted materials and the cloth at the sides swings to and fro covering the legs of the dancer. The dancer dons wooden legs that sound like the hooves of the horse. The dancer brandishes either a sword or a whip. This folk dance needs much training and skill. This dance is accompanied by Neiyandi Melam or Band music. This is connected to the worship of Ayyanar, prevails mainly around Thanjavur.
Kai Silambu Attam
This dance is performed in temples during Amman festivals or Navaratri festival. The dancers wear ankle-bells and hold anklets or silambu in their hands, which make noise when shaken. They perform various stepping styles jumps. The dance is in praise of all female deities; the most preferred being the powerful angry goddess - Kali or Durga.
Kol silambam or fighting with
a long stick and even with swords is a martial art from the days of Tamil
Kings. Fights were characterized by moves of self defense, practice of
skillful methods of approaching the opponent, overpowering and subduing him,
and finally teaching him a lesson, all to put an end to violence. A violent
fighting art has metamorphosed into a non-violent form of folk dance, adding
stepping styles following the measure of time. It also teaches the performer
the methods of the self-defense in modern day world.
Teak wooden pieces sizes of 7 X 3/4 inch are held between the fingers that make the noise. Eight to ten dancers stand in a circle or parallel lines. The accompanying songs are generally about gods and goddesses.
Kazhai Koothu is a performance of gymnastic specialized by Aryans. This is very similar to modern day circus. They travel in a group from place to place, entertaining the local people and thus earning a living.
Thappu is the name of a
percussion instrument. The subtle form of dance accompanied by captivating
music, is an ancient rural folk art that has gained in recent times.
Puppet shows are held during
festivals and fairs in village and temples. Many different kinds of puppets
are used for this show - cloth, wood, leather, etc. They are manipulated
through strings or wires. The persons stand behind a screen and the puppets
are held in front. The stories enacted in the puppet shows are from puranas,
epics and folklore. These shows are very entertaining and hold both adults and
children enthralled for many hours.
This dance is performed inside a temple, around a lamp. The purpose is to worship Lord Krishna, and celebrate his frolics with the gopikas. This is performed during Ramanavami and Gokulashtami.
Normally conducted during
village festivals during the months of Panguni and Aadi. This is performed in
a junction of three or four streets; in open air, the place being lit by gas
lights. A wooden bench is set up to seat the singers and the musical troupe.
Here, make-up and costumes are considered of prime importance. Only men take
part; the female roles also played by them. The performance consists of stoy-telling,
dialogue rendering, songs and dance, all performed by the artistes. Thus the
ariste should have a very good performing ability, being an all-rounder. The
stories are taken from Puranas, epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, and
also local folklore. The play starts in the late evening and gets over only
during the small hours of the nights. The performance is so captivating that
the audience are spellbound unaware of the longs hours. Theru Koothu is more
popular in the northern districts of Tamilnadu. The Koothu can be categorized
as Nattu Koothu, including Vali Koothu, Kuravai Koothu etc. Samaya Koothu
dealing with religious topics, Pei Koothu including Thunangai Koothu and
Porkala Koothu dealing with martial events.
Devarattam is a pure folk dance still preserved by the descendents of Veerapandiya Kattabomman dynasty at Kodangipatti of Madurai District. It was actually performed once a year near the temple and that too restricted to that community alone. Folklore research scholars have found that Devarattam is a combination of ancient 'muntherkuruvai' and 'pintherkuruvai' of the ancient Tamil Kings. It was performed in front of and at the chariot on the victorious return of the King and his army from battlefield. Sometimes even the king and his marshals would dance on the chariot deck. The soldiers and female dancers would form in lines and dance behind the chariot.
Today, this dance does not
have any songs but only danced to the beat of Urumi Melam, Thappu Melam and
sometimes, a long flute. The dancers hold a kerchief in each hand and swing
them as they dance. The person leading the dance wears false beard and a mask
decorated with shells that look like teeth. He dances the first step, which
Oyil means beauty. This dance is hence the dance of beauty. Traditionally, only men dance it. Ten years ago women also began to participate. This dance is prevalent in the south districts and Kongu Nadu in particular. First a few people will stand in a row and start dancing with rhythmic steps with musical accompaniment. Intricate steps are used in martial arts, such as Silambattam. Then gradually the row will become longer as the new comers and guests all join and dance along, as they like. The dancers wear ankle-bells. Normally, the dance is performed with the accompaniment of musical instruments and songs. It is performed near the temples or public places in the morning and evening hours, at times even till midnight. Styles of Oyilattam differ from place to place.
Yet another specialty of the
southern region is the snake dance, which arises from the popularity of the
snake as a protective divinity, safeguarding the health and happiness of the
rural folk. Usually danced by young girls dressed in a tight-fighting costume
designed like the snakeskin. The dancer simulates the movements of the snake,
writhing and creeping, at times making quick biting movements with head and
hands. The raised hands held together look like the hood of a snake.
The whirring sound of 'urumi' providing the melody and the beat of the Thappu providing the rhythm, accompany the dance sequence in this kind of temple art form. This is performed especially in Amman temples during the month of Adi. Nowadays, this art form is found only in selected villages in a few districts.
Ottas, a small group of tribals, perform this form of ritual dance on festive occasions to depict episodes from epics and other ancient stories. The women folk also participate in the dance.
Kamandi or Kaman Pandigai
This is celebrated to commemorate the puranic event when Manmada the God of Love was burnt to ashes by Siva in anger. The villagers separate themselves into two parties as Erintha katchi and Eriyatha katchi and a heated debate ensues. Kaman and Rathi, his consort, are main characters.
Puli Attam is performed by young men with painted bodies in colours yellow and black, complete with fangs, head gear with ears, paws with claws and long tail, simulating the prancing, pouncing tiger in every ferocious move. Wildly beating drums add frenzy to the performance. Sometimes, a goat is tied and brought along with the dancers, who pretend to pounce on it and kill it. This dance is regularly performed during temple festivals, drawing large crowds.
Kali means joy or fun and games. This is also known as Koladi, Kolkali, Kambadi Kali and Kolaattam. Sticks one foot length are held in each hand and beaten to make a sharp, rasping sound as the dance proceeds with unique steps, twisting and turning. It is danced by both men and women, during festivals, auspicious days and weddings. The special qualities of the dance are quickness, alertness, while being careful no to hurt the other dancers by the swinging 'kol'. Earlier, the 'kols' were brightly painted and decorated with brass rings, bells etc. The dancers used to wear ankle-bells. However, no special dress or make up was used for this dance.
This form of art is devoted to 'Thirumal' (Maha Vishnu) and is performed by village folk belonging especially to Nataka community. In this dance the performers forming a group, with one of them acting the buffoon, dance to the music of percussion instrument like 'urumi'. The classical songs and the measured steps with graceful movements are the special features of Sevai Attam. In Sangam works this had been known as 'Pinther Kuruvai'. In those days this was performed at the rear of a chariot procession either of a king or a deity.
The main singer here is accompanied by a chorus, musical instruments and a main instrument, the Villu or Bow, fixed with bells . The villu is struck rhythmically when the bells jingle in tune. The main singer relates a tale, interspersed with lively songs.
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