P.J.Cherian ( Ed )
Essays on the Cultural Formation of Kerala
literature, Art, Architecture, Music, Theatre, Cinema
 

Surviving Folk Arts and the social Analysis of their Origin and Development-
A.K.Nambiar

Social Aspects / Ritual Arts _ Origin and Development / Folk arts of Kerala _ Classifications / Folk Theatre / Folk Dances / Folk music
Folk Painting / Folk sculpture, Architecture, Handicraft, / Contemporary Relevance of Folk art and Problems of its Preservation
Ayyappan Theeyattu / Chavittukali, Gaddika, kulliyattu & Vellattu / Irula dance , Kakkarassinatakam, kalikettu / Kaliyoottu /
Malayankettu
Margamkali / Maritheyyam, M diyattam / Mudiyettu / Padayani / Poorakkali, Poramadiyattam /
Porattunatakam, Sarppam Thullal
/ Seethakkali / Theyyattom /
Thirayattom

Art and labour are inextricably linked to each other. According to Marx, labour is the means for the transference of nature's benefits to man and therefore it becomes the common factor in every form of social structure. Art is as old as human society because art objects are, in reality, natural products that get transmuted through human labour. That is why Earnest Fischer describes art as an occupation and uniquely human1 and George Thomson states that art has its genesis in the rhythmic body movements that accompany collective labour2. In fact in ancient times art was never linked to the concept of beauty but associated with work implements as magical instruments3. It is thus intimately connected with human life and folk arts especially is a manifestation of this phenomenon.

Some anthropologists explain that folklore which includes folk art- encompasses myths, proverbs, riddles and other dramatic representations4. Others, however, consider it as the crystallization of the wisdom acquired by a primitive race that simultaneously reflects their social environment and emotional ties5. Alan Dundes opines that: the term 'folk' can refer to any group of people whatsoever who share at least one common factor. It does not matter what the linking factor is _ could be a common occupation, language, or religion but _ what is important is that a group formed for whatever reason will have some traditions which it calls its own.
As is evident, there can be no consensus regarding the exact interpretation of the word 'folklore'. And because folklore differ according to the geographical and cultural peculiarities of the lands where they are born, western theories used to analyze or categorize them will hardly do justice, to their variety. The folklore of Kerala, for instance, is rich, varied and greatly different from its western counter parts in form as well as presentation. A general yardstick employed to examine it, therefore, will invariably overlook its regional peculiarities.

Besides, even now, there is contention regarding what folklore exactly includes. Does it mean only the orally transmitted beliefs and songs? If so, the written forms that have gained wide popularity like Panchatantra, Kathasaritsagara, the Jataka tales and even epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata will have to be excluded. So also the traditional rituals, folk dances and folk drama that have neither oral nor written forms. Or does it include written literature as well? For some, 'folk' connotes only ancient societies, but folklore are born even in the modern times. Earlier, written forms composed by individuals were unacceptable but now group performances of these compositions and the existence of several versions of the same text have made them part of folkore. Oppana, dappupattu, udukkupattu and kolkalipattu are examples of this. Similarly, some anthropologists see folkore as the offspring of the ancient ages whereas Marxian theorists _ seeing it primarly as a tool for class struggle _ have given legitimacy to the concept of 'urban folklore'.6


Folk art can be described as the simple art form of the common man. He is its creator and at one time was its sole consumer7. As an artistic version of folk culture, folk art pulsates with human life. Christopher Caudwell sees it as the "switch board" of the instinctual forces of ancient human community8. Folk art has its origins in society and therefore does not give importance to personal emotions. Simplicity and directness are its special features and it eschews technical complexity as well as rigid structure. Folk art aims at instant communication and as it speaks of social themes, the common man finds it easy to identify himself with it. Besides, folk art is imbibed almost unconsciously, it does not demand a disciplined, systematic approach or constant practice.

Social Aspects

Folk arts have always had an organic link with the community life of the prevalent age. Most of them originate from rituals that are part of magical and religious rites undertaken by man to overcome crises, gather courage and confidence and ward off despair. The 'potato dance' of the Maoris, is an excellent instance of this. At one time, the inhabitants of the Polynesian island were under threat of losing their potato crops due to stormy winds. In order to stall it, a group of women wearing loose garments danced in the fields. The artificial wind generated by their quick steps, they believed was, the storm wind and this ritual of imitative magic would prevent natural catastrophes. Similarly, villagers in Kerala danced with the taikkolams of Bhagavathi and vasoorimala in a bid to dispel small-pox and reach succour to the patients and give courage to their relatives as well.

In Kerala, folk arts flourished under the shadow of feudalism. It attempted to raise voice against the social and economic inequalities of the time. As it was satirical in tone, the ritualistic element was relatively less. Theatre forms like kakkarassinatakam, porattunatakam, kurathiyattom, echo the feelings of discontentment in life and register protest of the oppressed classes against the rulers. People in ancient times believed that enactment of various rituals before village temples and other public places would solve all their problems. The 'low' caste people even took advantage of the special status that the rituals temporarily accorded them. With elaborate designs on the face, attractive ornaments and heavy headgear the perfomers tried to make everyone _ including the higher caste Brahmans _ accept their divinity. Such an atmosphere even permitted them, to question their superiors, helped trace stolen goods, give fitting punishments to the wrong doers, and settle domestic quarrels. The bhairavi kolam of padayani and Kali of mudiyettom, theyyattom, etc performed these functions. The contribution of such art forms to the maintenance of the social fabric was considerable.

Ritual Arts _ Origin and Development

Primitive man's knowledge of nature was limited. He had to find a way to defend himself against ferocious animals, thunder bolt, rain and other undefined calamities of nature. In course of time, he found that he could interfere with natural phenomena with the help of sympathetic magic. He began to depend on rituals for sucess in hunting, cultivation of crops and acquiring the basic needs of day to day life. These rituals, involving certain dances and utterance of vague sounds, became diffused during the neolithic period when agriculture began to make progress. A number of fertility rites were performed to reap rich harvests and to get rid of floods, droughts and famine. Spring festivals as well as harvest festivals were celebrated. All this was closely associated with his social life

Experience, however convinced him that he could not subdue the forces of nature by magic alone. This gave way to rituals of nature worship. The worship of Gods thus came into existence due to the helplessness experienced by primitive man. Elliot Smith observes that:

The Gods as creators of mankind are regarded as the source of man's life, and their chief purpose in primitive religion is to preserve and safeguard the life they created.9

The most primitive form of religious belief is totemism. Malinowski considers totemism as an instrument to tame and subdue nature.10

Even though the term 'ritual' or 'rite' does not yield itself to easy definitions, it does connote man's collective and social effort to escape the calamities of life. Durkhiem defines 'rites' as follows:

Rites are ways of behaving which only came into being at the heart of assembled groups and whose function is to create, maintain and to re-establish certain mental states within these groups.11

Prof. Radcliffe-Brown argues that rites are symbolic representations of certain sentiments12 and every rite has its own inner meaning. However, it is difficult to believe that rituals had any relation with religion in olden times. Nor did they originate as art. These were only later developments.

As an art form, rituals have three components: myth, ritual and theatre. Whereas the basic structure of each of these does not change, alterations and improvisations have always been accommodated. For instance, the singers of the myth have the freedom to delete certain sections, sometimes create new myths or connect the existing ones with contemporary social life.

Similarly, it is possible to reduce the duration of the ritual. The repetitive parts can be removed to avoid monotony and make it look more attractive, the ritual objects can be replaced, etc. For instance, theyyattom in Kerala requires toddy as one of its ritual objects. At one time when prohibition came into force, toddy was replaced with tender coconut water.

Over the years, the theatre component has also undergone many changes. Earlier, it had the form of a procession (kettukazcha) where people carried objects like coconut, banana, jackfruit, tender coconut leaves, red flowers, etc., to temples and shrines. Of late, devotees have included decorated chairots, tableaux and illumination to increase its visual appeal. The ritual arts like theyyam, mudiyettu and padayani now accommodate elaborate make-up, colourful costumes, detailed angikabhinaya, acrobatic displays, etc.

The evolution of ritual arts into performing arts was gradual. Earlier, the ritual arts was never performed before an audience. The performers were not treated as artists either. Rather they were looked upon as deities. The performer too tried to identify himself with the God or mythical character he represented. Thus, in theyyam, the cutting of a live chicken's head was symbolic of the killing of the demon Darika; walking on live embers was symbolic of Vishnumurthy's attempt to destroy the fire God _ Agni's ego, etc. For these very reasons, the skills of individual performers were never compared with one another. Nor was there any element of disbelief. In modern times, however, the devotees who assemble before a temple or a shrine do not participate in the ritual but remain spectators. Further, sponsored dramas and ballets have come to accompany the ritual.

Folk arts of Kerala _ Classifications

What were the folk arts that existed in earlier times in different parts of Kerala; of them how many are extant now, and what are they; where did they originate from; which communities handled them; what are the peculiarities of each of the folk arts; to what extent do they influence people _ such and related issues have not so far been subjected to a systematic and comprehensive study.

Taking into considerations the geographical and cultural peculiarities of the existing folk arts, it is possible to classify them under five separate zones: north Malabar (excluding the district of Wayanad), south Malabar, Kochi, Travancore and Wayanad. Other kinds of classification could either put folk arts under three categories: coast, high ranges and hinterland or under three heads: north Malabar, south Malabar and Travancore-Kochi or into another set of three: rural, tribal and urban.

The difficulties that confront a researcher in this field are formidable. Most of the folk arts of Kerala are closely associated with rituals. In some, like kothamooriyattom and poorakkali, the theatre element predominates. Others which are performed as part of rituals, like Payyannoor kolkali, tiruvathirakali, etc., can boast of independent status as art forms. Still others, like theyyam and mudiyettu, have the ritual and art elements beautifully intertwined. Some magical rituals, like kolamthullal and sarppamthullal, do not have performers that are comparable with the rest. A few others are performed to propitiate gandharvas or nagas, or for obtaining children. In some folk arts, the elements of drama and dance are so intermixed that it is difficult to classify them. Theyyam, mudiyettu, poorakkali, etc are at once ritualistic performances, folk drama as well as dance. There are others like thiyyattu, kolamthullal, sarppamthullal, etc., which combine music, painting, drama and dance. If examined objectively however, these ritualistic folk arts come through as excellent pieces of performing art.

The folk arts of Kerala can be broadly classified under two heads: ritualistic and non-ritualistic. Ritualistic folk arts can be further divided into two: devotional andmagical.

Devotional folk arts are performed to propitiate a particular God or Goddess. Theyyam, thira, poothamthira, kanyarkali, kummatti, etc., are some of them. Forms like panappattu and thottampattu are composed in the form of songs. In kolkali, margamkali, dappumuttukkali, etc., the ritualistic element is not very strong.

Magical folk arts seek to win general prosperity for a community or exorcise evil spirits or to beget children. Gandharvas and nagas are worshipped in order to win these favours. The magical folk arts include pambinthullal, pooppadathullal, kolamthullal, malayankettu, etc.

Non-ritualistic folk arts can be divided into theatre arts, painting, architecture, sculpture, handicraft, folk music; and theatre arts can be further classified under folk drama and folk dance.

Folk Theatre

It is generally believed that folk theatre evolved out of religious ceremonies. However, there are indications to know that theatre is older than religion. Very ancient tales and even epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata will have to be excluded. So also the traditional rituals, folk dances and folk drama that have neither oral nor written forms. Or does it include written literature as well? For some, 'folk' connotes only ancient societies, but folklore are born even in the modern times. Earlier, written forms composed by individuals were unacceptable but now group performances of these compositions and the existence of several versions of the same text have made them part of folkore. Oppana, dappupattu, udukkupattu and kolkalipattu are examples of this. Similarly, some anthropologists see folkore as the offspring of the ancient ages whereas Marxian theorists _ seeing it primarly as a tool for class struggle _ have given legitimacy to the concept of 'urban folklore'.6

Folk art can be described as the simple art form of the common man. He is its creator and at one time was its sole consumer7. As an artistic version of folk culture, folk art pulsates with human life. Christopher Caudwell sees it as the "switch board" of the instinctual forces of ancient human community8. Folk art has its origins in society and therefore does not give importance to personal emotions. Simplicity and directness are its special features and it eschews technical complexity as well as rigid structure. Folk art aims at instant communication and as it speaks of social themes, the common man finds it easy to identify himself with it. Besides, folk art is imbibed almost unconsciously, it does not demand a disciplined, systematic approach or constant practice.

Social Aspects

Folk arts have always had an organic link with the community life of the prevalent age. Most of them originate from rituals that are part of magical and religious rites undertaken by man to overcome crises, gather courage and confidence and ward off despair. The 'potato dance' of the Maoris, is an excellent instance of this. At one time, the inhabitants of the Polynesian island were under threat of losing their potato crops due to stormy winds. In order to stall it, a group of women wearing loose garments danced in the fields. The artificial wind generated by their quick steps, they believed was, the storm wind and this ritual of imitative magic would prevent natural catastrophes. Similarly, villagers in Kerala danced with the taikkolams of Bhagavathi and vasoorimala in a bid to dispel small-pox and reach succour to the patients and give courage to their relatives as well.

In Kerala, folk arts flourished under the shadow of feudalism. It attempted to raise voice against the social and economic inequalities of the time. As it was satirical in tone, the ritualistic element was relatively less. Theatre forms like kakkarassinatakam, porattunatakam, kurathiyattom, echo the feelings of discontentment in life and register protest of the oppressed classes against the rulers.

People in ancient times believed that enactment of various rituals before village temples and other public places would solve all their problems. The 'low' caste people even took advantage of the special status that the rituals temporarily accorded them. With elaborate designs on the face, attractive ornaments and heavy headgear the perfomers tried to make everyone _ including the higher caste Brahmans _ accept their divinity. Such an atmosphere even permitted them, to question their superiors, helped trace stolen goods, give fitting punishments to the wrong doers, and settle domestic quarrels. The bhairavi kolam of padayani and Kali of mudiyettom, theyyattom, etc performed these functions. The contribution of such art forms to the maintenance of the social fabric was considerable.

Ritual Arts _ Origin and Development

Primitive man's knowledge of nature was limited. He had to find a way to defend himself against ferocious animals, thunder bolt, rain and other undefined calamities of nature. In course of time, he found that he could interfere with natural phenomena with the help of sympathetic magic. He began to depend on rituals for sucess in hunting, cultivation of crops and acquiring the basic needs of day to day life. These rituals, involving certain dances and utterance of vague sounds, became diffused during the neolithic period when agriculture began to make progress. A number of fertility rites were performed to reap rich harvests and to get rid of floods, droughts and famine. Spring festivals as well as harvest festivals were celebrated. All this was closely associated with his social life.

Experience, however convinced him that he could not subdue the forces of nature by magic alone. This gave way to rituals of nature worship. The worship of Gods thus came into existence due to the helplessness experienced by primitive man. Elliot Smith observes that:

The Gods as creators of mankind are regarded as the source of man's life, and their chief purpose in primitive religion is to preserve and safeguard the life they created.9

The most primitive form of religious belief is totemism. Malinowski considers totemism as an instrument to tame and subdue nature.10

Even though the term 'ritual' or 'rite' does not yield itself to easy definitions, it does connote man's collective and social effort to escape the calamities of life. Durkhiem defines 'rites' as follows:

Rites are ways of behaving which only came into being at the heart of assembled groups and whose function is to create, maintain and to re-establish certain mental states within these groups.11

Prof. Radcliffe-Brown argues that rites are symbolic representations of certain

sentiments12 and every rite has its own inner meaning. However, it is difficult to believe that rituals had any relation with religion in olden times. Nor did they originate as art. These were only later developments.

As an art form, rituals have three components: myth, ritual and theatre. Whereas the basic structure of each of these does not change, alterations and improvisations have always been accommodated. For instance, the singers of the myth have the freedom to delete certain sections, sometimes create new myths or connect the existing ones with contemporary social life.

Similarly, it is possible to reduce the duration of the ritual. The repetitive parts can be removed to avoid monotony and make it look more attractive, the ritual objects can be replaced, etc. For instance, theyyattom in Kerala requires toddy as one of its ritual objects. At one time when prohibition came into force, toddy was replaced with tender coconut water.

Over the years, the theatre component has also undergone many changes. Earlier, it had the form of a procession (kettukazcha) where people carried objects like coconut, banana, jackfruit, tender coconut leaves, red flowers, etc., to temples and shrines. Of late, devotees have included decorated chairots, tableaux and illumination to increase its visual appeal. The ritual arts like theyyam, mudiyettu and padayani now accommodate elaborate make-up, colourful costumes, detailed angikabhinaya, acrobatic displays, etc.

The evolution of ritual arts into performing arts was gradual. Earlier, the ritual arts was never performed before an audience. The performers were not treated as artists either. Rather they were looked upon as deities. The performer too tried to identify himself with the God or mythical character he represented. Thus, in theyyam, the cutting of a live chicken's head was symbolic of the killing of the demon Darika; walking on live embers was symbolic of Vishnumurthy's attempt to destroy the fire God _ Agni's ego, etc. For these very reasons, the skills of individual performers were never compared with one another. Nor was there any element of disbelief. In modern times, however, the devotees who assemble before a temple or a shrine do not participate in the ritual but remain spectators. Further, sponsored dramas and ballets have come to accompany the ritual.

Folk arts of Kerala _ Classifications

What were the folk arts that existed in earlier times in different parts of Kerala; of them how many are extant now, and what are they; where did they originate from; which communities handled them; what are the peculiarities of each of the folk arts; to what extent do they influence people _ such and related issues have not so far been subjected to a systematic and comprehensive study.

Taking into considerations the geographical and cultural peculiarities of the existing folk arts, it is possible to classify them under five separate zones: north Malabar (excluding the district of Wayanad), south Malabar, Kochi, Travancore and Wayanad. Other kinds of classification could either put folk arts under three categories: coast, high ranges and hinterland or under three heads: north Malabar, south Malabar and Travancore-Kochi or into another set of three: rural, tribal and urban.

The difficulties that confront a researcher in this field are formidable. Most of the folk arts of Kerala are closely associated with rituals. In some, like kothamooriyattom and poorakkali, the theatre element predominates. Others which are performed as part of rituals, like Payyannoor kolkali, tiruvathirakali, etc., can boast of independent status as art forms. Still others, like theyyam and mudiyettu, have the ritual and art elements beautifully intertwined. Some magical rituals, like kolamthullal and sarppamthullal, do not have performers that are comparable with the rest. A few others are performed to propitiate gandharvas or nagas, or for obtaining children. In some folk arts, the elements of drama and dance are so intermixed that it is difficult to classify them. Theyyam, mudiyettu, poorakkali, etc are at once ritualistic performances, folk drama as well as dance. There are others like thiyyattu, kolamthullal, sarppamthullal, etc., which combine music, painting, drama and dance. If examined objectively however, these ritualistic folk arts come through as excellent pieces of performing art.

The folk arts of Kerala can be broadly classified under two heads: ritualistic and non-ritualistic. Ritualistic folk arts can be further divided into two: devotional andmagical.
Devotional folk arts are performed to propitiate a particular God or Goddess. Theyyam, thira, poothamthira, kanyarkali, kummatti, etc., are some of them. Forms like panappattu and thottampattu are composed in the form of songs. In kolkali, margamkali, dappumuttukkali, etc., the ritualistic element is not very strong.

Magical folk arts seek to win general prosperity for a community or exorcise evil spirits or to beget children. Gandharvas and nagas are worshipped in order to win these favours. The magical folk arts include pambinthullal, pooppadathullal, kolamthullal, malayankettu, etc.

Non-ritualistic folk arts can be divided into theatre arts, painting, architecture, sculpture, handicraft, folk music; and theatre arts can be further classified under folk drama and folk dance.

Folk Theatre

It is generally believed that folk theatre evolved out of religious ceremonies. However, there are indications to know that theatre is older than religion. Very ancient
magical rituals could not have been connected with religion. Man must have performed 'rain dance' and imitation of 'animal hunt' as part of his daily ritual. Elliot Smith has established that the origins of drama and dance can be traced back to primitive man's rituals that were aimed at maintaining a secure social life13. Even today dramatic performances exist among primitive tribes that live by hunting. The main plot of these performances revolve around animal's fights and hunting. Adya Rangacharya's view that Indian drama, in its ritual stages had no connection with religion, rather it was only part of man's social, cultural and economic life is therefore acceptable.14

When these rituals became more and more polished with repeated performances, they evolved into art. Mulk Raj Anand is of the opinion that it was by adopting the organized movements, sounds and gestures of rituals and adding symbols as well as beautiful images to them that drama came into being.15

A similar development _ though not evolving from the imitation of 'animal hunt' _ can be detected in Kerala also. The folk drama, kothamooriyattom, might have come from fertility rites like gopuja. M.D. Raghavan has pointed out that kothamooriyattom is one among the few fertility plays that are still prevalent in north Malabar.16 The folk drama of Kerala is closely bound to religious rituals. Pure theatre forms are very rare. Although kaikottikkali, kolkali, dappumuttukkali, etc., are art forms that seek to entertain, they are still performed as part of some ritual. Kaikottikkali is related to tiruvathira, kolkali is part of the religious festivities at vettakkorumakan temple and dappumuttukkali is performed as a ritual in mosques.

There are some folk dramas like kurathiyattom, porattunatakam, kakkarassinatakam, etc., that are not associated with the rituals or even the artistic traditions of Kerala. Their plot structures, manner of presentation, linguistic expressions and characters show the influence of Tamil culture and are popular in those districts that lie close to Tamil Nadu. The porattunatakam of Trissoor shows features that are strikingly similar of the porattunatakam of Palakkad that has a heavy Tamil cultural accent. The kurathiyattom of Kannur has resemblances with the lives of the nomadic kuravas and kurathis of Tamil Nadu. Pankali, a version of porattunatakam, exists only in Palakkad. So also aryamala with its Tamil influence. What is noteworthy is that all these theatre forms are only of recent origin.

The folk theatre of Kerala that is of special significance is the ritualistic drama. It is in them that we find the special features of the artistic traditions of Kerala. A compact plot with a definite begining, middle and end, antithetical characters, logical and orderly development of the plot, four styles of acting, audience participation, environmental acting, improvisation in acting, creation of specific moods, etc., are some of the unique features of the ritualistic theatre of Kerala. The acting is most often realistic.

There are some folk dramas that require only one style of acting vannankoothu, malayikoothu, etc., of Kannur adopt the narrative mode of acting. The plot of malayikoothu _ which provides an entertainment interlude in theyyattom with women narrating and enacting stories behind the wall of the snake shrine _ is taken from the Mahabharata. The vannankoothu adopts a different style. In it, two characters. Ankoothu and penkoothu, appear on the stage and recite slokas as well as stylized prose in chaste Malayalam.

Porattu is an important component of the folk drama of Kerala. It is performed as part of the ritualistic dramas like padayani, kendronpattu, poorakkali, etc., but has an independent existence because it is totally free of ritualistic elements.

Although Kerala boasts of several types of folk theatre, very few of them can be technically called drama. At the same time, there are other forms that have several qualities of the theatre. A study of the folk theatre of Kerala will therefore be incomplete if they are not taken into consideration.

Folk Dances

Most folk dances of Kerala involve only men. Women perform only in such folk dances like kuravaikoothu that trace their lineage to the devadasi tradition. Tribal dances, however, are performed by both sexes. This could be because of the relatively greater freedom that tribal women generally enjoy. Men and women dance together in ooralinrittam, paniyarnrittam, irulanrittam, etc whereas mudiyattam involves only women.

Of the other types of folk dances, tiruvathirakkali, kunni, kolattom, oppana, etc., have women performers. The more active forms like kolkali, poorakkali, dappumuttukkali, kambadikkali etc. are performed by men. Only rarely as in chavittukali do women and men dance together.


Ritualistic dance forms also have only men performers. Most of them fall under folk dance category. Mariyattom, kolamthullal, thidambunrittam, pulikkali, theyyam, thira, etc., are at once dance and drama.

Folk music

Music plays a very important role in the lives of Malayalis. Children are put to sleep and also awakened with songs. Similarly songs accompany all the phases of agriculture like sowing seeds, removing weeds and harvest; making coir threads, irrigating fields, etc. People believed that humming tunes relieved monotony and lightened hard physical labour.

Music also plays a significant role in most festivals of Kerala. There are songs for harvest festivals like onam, tiruvathira, pooram, etc. The pastoral life of Kerala
has a rich ambience of music that accompanies the leisure time dances like kummi, kolkali, margamkali, dappumuttukkali, etc. Besides there are songs of padayani, theyyam, kummatti, etc. All rituals that are performed at the different stages of a person's life have their own music. Special songs are sung on the occasion of a girl's puberty, marriage, pregnancy and even after death. There are songs to ward off the Evil Eye and to help beget children.

Nothing much is known about the folk style in the music of Kerala. Sopana- sangeetham is the only form of music that is cited as unique to this state. But it stands midway between folk music and Karnatic music. Yet it is a well known fact that there existed a pure and primitive folk style in Kerala before sopana sangeetham made its appearance. Chilappathikaram, that is generally believed to have been composed in the second century, has recorded the existence of such a style. It also refers to more than 12,000 ragas that were in currency at that time.17

It can be said that a kind of primitive music gave birth to folk music which subsequently brought forth classical music and later modern music. Folk music may be a more refined form than its predecessor but it does not have the scientifically organized form of classical music. Its authorship is unknown, it was orally transmitted through the ages and subjected to all changes dictated by the caprices of public memory. The same folk song would have many different tunes and different dialectal forms. The famed ballads of north Malabar (vadakkan pattukal) are an instance of this.


An authority on folk music Vidwan A.K. Raveendranath lists its peculiarities thus: it employs simple literature and easily understandable rhythms, its range is limited to one or two notes at three or four points in its rendition; most songs have a uniform pattern and they are more idea-oriented than music-oriented18. It was the power of folk music to reach out of the common man and affect him profoundly that made Kunchan Nambiar adopt its tune and rhythm for his thullal, although he has been exposed to such classical art forms as koothu and koodiyattom.

Refrain is another special feature of folk music. Most folk songs are set in ragas that have given life and vigour to Karnatic music. For instance, thottam songs carry elements of kedara raga and thumbithullal songs have elements of saveri raga. Some folk songs are so composed as to create the right atmosphere required for a ritual. Pulluvanpattu for example starts with a slow rhythm that gradually gathers tempo. With this, the girl who is seated in the middle of the sarppakkalam, holding a bunch of (coconut or arecanut) flowers, is brought into a trance.

A variety of musical instruments are used in the folk tradition. Only rarely as in poorakkali, kummi, etc., are folk arts performed without them. Forms like kolkali, kambadikkali, kolattom, vattakkali etc., use sticks. Musical instruments vary according to the community and class that perform the arts. For instance vannan uses thoppimaddalam and vikuchenda, malayan uses chenda, etc. There is scope for improvisation in the use of instruments as well. In the kalampattu of the kaniyars and the penppattu of the pulluvas, instruments are made using plates, pots and kitchen knives.

Folk Painting

There are five types of folk painting in Kerala: kolamezhuthu, kalamezhuthu, chumarchitramezhuthu (murals), mukhamezhuthu, mukhavaranangal (masks) and kireedam (headgear).

As in the other folk arts, folk painting is intimately linked to religious rituals. Onam is celebrated in all homes in Kerala by laying flower designs on the floor. Although flowers of all colours and shapes are arranged in definite patterns, from a distance, they give the impression of a beautiful painting. The poorakkalam of north Kerala, celebrated during the pooram festival, commemorates the burning of Lord Kama and the thrikkakkarayappan of the onapookkalam is associated with the return of King Mahabali. The importance of folk painting in art forms like mudiyettu, kummatti, kolamthullal, kalampattu, etc., cannot be underestimated.

The kolams that are even now drawn by Tamil Brahmans in their homes in Kerala are vestiges of the tradition of kolamezhuthu. Generally believed to bring prosperity to families, it is related to tantric cults and belief in magic. Although kolamezhuthu originated in Tamil Nadu, Kerala has its own ancient forms like kalamvarayal, aniyal, etc. Whereas kolamezhuthu and kalamvara are generally done using powder of a single colour, kalamezhuthu is relatively larger and uses powders of five different hues. It is usually set by men who have undergone special training. Kalamezhuthu is a means of propitiating Gods. It forms part of the tottampattu conducted in Bhadrakali temples. Multi-colour powder designs of Goddess Kali are made in padayani and kalikettu in Kali temples, that of Lord Ayyappa in forms like Ayyappan theeyattu those of Nagaraja and Nagayakshi in sarppamthullal, etc. Each of these rituals is monopolized by people of different castes.

The powder for all the five colours _ black, white, yellow, red and green _ are taken from natural substances like burnt chaff (for black), rice (for white), brick (for red) leaves of kumkumam or vaka (for green) and turmeric (for yellow). Sarppakkalam has, of late, started using blue colour as well. All the designs of kalamezhuthu are three-dimensional. The eyes, nose and breasts of the figures stand a little raised from the floor. There are separate painting utensils to achieve the desired effect. The five colour-combination and proportionate structures that give the impression of superhuman Gods is one of the proud achievements of the folk tradition of Kerala. The impetus it has given to folk sculpture is also laudable.

Kerala has always had the practice of decorating the walls of temples, churches and palaces with beautiful paintings. Traces of the most ancient mural paintings are believed to be in the cave temples of Thirunandikkara.19 It represents several scenes from the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Scenes of Lord Krishna greeting his friend Kuchela, the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana, the rakshasas attempting to wake up Kumbhakarna, etc, enliven the walls of Thodikkalam temple in Koothuparambu in Kannur district. Paintings are also found on the walls of the Syrian Catholic Church at Cheppad, the Roman Catholic church at Kanjoor, etc.

The walls are first prepared for painting by washing them with a solution containing tender coconut water and lime paste. Juice extracted from leaves, tree resin, red brick and other natural substances are used for the paintings. As these substances agree with the climate of Kerala, the murals stay intact for several years.

Mukhamezhuthu of the ritualistic arts shows all the qualities of the painting tradition in Kerala. Colours are applied on the face in different ways for mudiyettu, theyyam, kalikettu, etc. Chutti is a major component of mudiyettu. Rice powder is applied as spots to represent Goddess Kali's face. Kalankolam and gandharvan kolam require application of green paste on the face in a manner similar to kathakali. The patterns of mukhamezhuthu differ according to the various forms of theyyam. It is estimated that about forty patterns are used for this art form.

Meyyezhuthu is another special feature of the folk arts of Kerala. It is theyyam that uses different types of meyyezhuthu. Here the chest and stomach of the performers are painted.

Of all the folk art forms that employ mukhavaranam (mask), padayani, theyyam, tira, poothanthira, mariyattom, etc., are some of the important ones. Mukhavaranam made either of spathe or soft wood is sometimes donned in place of mukhamezhuthu. It is decorated using red brick powder, charcoal and other natural substances. Most padayanikkolams, except kalankolam and some forms of theyyam use mukhavaranam.

While most folk art forms are closely associated with the life of common man, folk painting appears to remain isolated. This could be because it is done by people who belong to the lower rungs _ both socially and economically. It may seem a paradox that the folk paintings done by Pulayas, Malayas, Pulluvas etc., keep their distance from contemporary life. They tried to present Gods as well as superhuman and mythical characters. This could perhaps be due to the influence of religion on their lives. As a result folk paintings independent of religious themes never took wings.

Folk sculpture

The sculpture found in temples is an important part of Kerala's rich folk tradition. The images of Gods in the sanctum sanctorum and other figures on the walls are enduring examples. Although most images are cut in stone and wood there are _ though rarely _ figure made from kadusharkarakkootu (a peculiar, hard mixture of jaggery and other ingredients). The latter type can be seen in Thiruvarkattukovil in north Malabar.

Folk Architecture

The carpenters of Kerala have shown their extraordinary finesse in the construction of temples, shrines, palaces and houses. They could develop a unique and distinct style with the construction of nalukettu (house with a quadrangle) and ettukettu (house with two quadrangles) dining halls, bathing ghats in tanks, theatres, etc.

Folk Handicraft

There has always existed in Kerala the practice of decorating articles of daily use like cots, boxes, etc. Shields, bows, palanquins, cots etc were beautified with paintings. Costumes, ornaments, headgears etc are also excellent examples of handicraft in Kerala. It is the symmetry in the costume and headgear in thaikkolam that lends it special beauty.

Though pavakkoothu (puppetry) did not originate in Kerala, but in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the making of puppets as well as the management of their movements deserves special mention. Another form of pavakkoothu is kathakalippavakkali.


Various types of pottery and metallic vessels were also moulded in Kerala. Large bronze vessels called vattalam were a class in themselves both in beauty and in weight. Their weight was so formidable that they were seldom removed from the stove. Traditional bronze lamps are also unique to Kerala handicraft. Among them, the hanging lamp called lakshmi vilakku had carvings on it. An array of gold and silver ornaments for both men and women _ speaks volumes for the expertise of the smiths of Kerala.

Contemporary Relevance of Folk art and Problems of its Preservation

Most of the folk arts of Kerala are virtually vanishing. Their existence is greatly threatened by the process of modernization and commercialization of life in the contemporary age and the accompanying changes in social and economic structure.

In this context, it is not easy to find an effective way of preserving our folk arts. The problem is more acute in the case of ritualistic arts because preserving them also means preserving the belief that gave birth to them. To preserve the old beliefs would perhaps be an unscientific and obscurantist approach. The total eradication of small-pox has made it impossible to revive vasoorimala and puthiya bhagavati thaikkolam. Similarly, the rural life of Kerala was sustained by agriculture and folk arts thrived under the feudal structure prevalent at that time. Kothamooriyattom, kalichantheyyam etc., which were born in such an environment can hardly be expected to survive in these changed times.

The same problem crops up when we undertake to preserve the folk arts of the hill tribes. On the one hand, efforts are being made to bring the hill tribes into the mainstream society. On the other, we cry ourselves hoarse about the need to preserve their traditional art forms. As they get modernized, the uniqueness of their life is lost. This process takes its toll on their arts by creating a kind of composite culture. Recently, the vattakali of mulluvankuravar was heard rendered in the tune of a popular film song.

Non-ritualistic folk arts, however, do not face this crisis acutely. Theatre forms like porattunatakam, kakkarassinatakam, etc., continue to attract interested audiences. Folk art forms that carry elements of social criticism and satire will not find it difficult to exist. The handling of new plots in the songs of kolkali or dappumuttukkali is not objectionable either.

However, there appears to be no consensus regarding the mode of preservation of ritualistic art forms. Some expect them to change with the times whereas others want them to be kept in their pristine form. There are still others who demand that such outdated art forms should be discarded totally.

It would be a futile exercise to either preserve ritualistic arts in their original form or to improve upon them. Ritual and art are inseparably united and so it would not be feasible to remove the ritual component and preserve the art form alone. If it is done, we get only pseudo-art. It is therefore preferable to draw inspiration from and to absorb the essence of these ancient forms and create new ones or enliven existing ones.

To the question as to how ritualistic arts continue to exist, E.B Tyler had a reply, penned roughly nine decades ago. He felt that once a ritual or an art takes shape, it will pass on from one generation to the next 20. Superficial changes that overcome society cannot remove deep-rooted beliefs and the art forms that project them. Time instead will decide their fate. Neither blind acceptance nor outright rejection of tradition is desirable. Only if tradition is understood thoroughly, can the good elements be preserved and the bad discarded.

What we need is not a complete revival but collection, documentation and objective analysis of ritualistic art forms leading to dissemination of knowledge about them. They should be studied with scientific insight and in relation to modern trends. Further, monographs on extinct and extant art forms should be prepared, they should be recorded in audio and video tapes and preserved in folklore archives as well as museums. Explanatory Notes

Ayyappan Theeyattu

This is a ritual prevailing in the temples and houses of Brahmans performed by thiyyadi Nambiars. The myth depicts the story of palazhi madhanam. Ayyappa was born of the union of Vishnu and Siva. Ayyappa wants to know the secret of his birth, when he became grown up. As per the advice of Siva, Nandikeswara explained everything with mudras. This was, because, he was not supposed to talk to anybody as it was the time of pradosha. In the myth, the confrontation of Ayyappa and Indra is depicted. It also depicts how Ayyappa has quenched the ego of Indra. As per the advice of Siva, Ayyappa meets the king of Pandalam for becoming his son, and the God of the people on the earth. According to the myth, the thiyyadi Nambiars came form heaven along with Ayyappa.

Thiyyattu is performed as an offering and also as a part of the annual ritual of the temple. Koorayidal (preparation of the pandal), ucchappattu (song at the noon), arangu vithanikkal (decoration) are some of the preliminary rituals. Then kalamezhuttu starts. The figure of Ayyappa is drawn of five colours of powders. Deeparadhana, kalampooja, kuthu, thiri uzhichal, pooja done by Nambiar and then by Brahman, oracle or velichappadu, eracing of the kalam are the important rituals. In Ayyappan kuthu the performer enacts the details of the birth of Ayyappa, in terms of mudras. The costume is the mixture of the costume of vidooshaka in chakyarkuthu and the dancer of thullal.

The last ritual is the playing of the sankhu and pulling down the koora (cloth) from the pandal. Chenda, para and elathalam are the musical instruments.

Chavittukali

This is a dance form prevalent in Malappuram district in which both men and women are intermingled for the performance. This is done by the members of Pulaya caste. This dance form is performed at the time of temple festivals and also during the marriage rituals. In olden days there was artistic competition between two karas. No musical instruments were used for the performance. The dancers clap their hands to keep the rhythm of the dance. They make various patterns of movements through their dance. Songs are composed as per the chavittu (steps). Sometimes they improvise new songs.

Gaddika, Kulliyattu and Vellattu

Gaddika is an exorcistic ritual practiced by the tribe adiyanmar to ward off evil spirits. It is also performed as part of death ceremony. The word Gaddika means eradication. When medicine fails, adiyanmar try this ritual. The ritual starts with songs and mandras on monday morning and concludes on next day morning by 10'o clock. This is done to all castes of Wayanad by the adiya mooppan, who is the chief exorcist. It is a simple ritual. If the illness is not cured they try other rituals named kulliyattu and vellattu.

Kulliyattu is the ritual for propitiating the deities like Mariyamma, Karimkali, Bhadrakali, Kuliyan etc. During this ritual, the patient is getting possessed.

If the illness is not cured with kulliyattu, another ritual named vellattu will be performed. An oracle appears in this ritual who perform a possession dance. He speaks to the members of the family as a representative of the God. The final ritual of vellattam happens below a 'pala' tree. Paniya tribe too perform these rituals.

Irula dance

This is a tribal dance form of Irulas of Attappadi. The period of the dance is during harvest. Irulas have different types of dances. Some of them are centered upon their beloved Deva, Malleeswara. Ten or twelve men and women form a circle and dance in the night. When the dance reaches its climax all the members of the 'uru' - including children join the dance.

Elela karati is one of the important dance form of Irulars. Para, thakilu, kuzhal and ilathalam are the musical accompaniments for the dance.

Kakkarassinatakam

This is a performing art form prevalent in southern and central parts of Tiruvitamkur. This has got any relation to religion or rituals. Ilavas and Kuravas of Tiruvananthapuram district and Kammalars and Panas of central Tiruvitamkur perform this folk drama.

Siva, Parvathi
and Ganga disguised themselves as kakkan and kakkathimar respectively and made the avathara on the earth to put an end to the corruption and evil acts of the people of Bhuloka.

Siva, kakkathimar, Narada, vedan and tampuran are the important characters in kakkarassi. The content and style of presentation of kakkarassi prove that it is originated from Tamil Nadu.

Harmonium, genjira, mridangam and ilathalam are the musical instruments used for the play.

Kalikettu

This is a ritual drama vogue in the Bhadrakali temples of Trissoor district. Kaliyattam is another name for kalikettu. This is a fertility ritual performed just after the harvest. Parayar are the performers of this drama.

The myth of kalikettu is same as mudiyettu ie., the slaying of Darika. Mahakali (Mohini), Karimkali, Kuttiddarika, Mookkan chathan are the characters appearing in kalikettu. The 'oracle dance' of velichappad is an interesting scene in this drama.

Drawing of the kalam, in the temple premises, sacrificial, rituals like kuruthi tharpana are the rituals before the performance. As an offering to Kali children are disguised themselves as Darikas and join the performance.

Chenda, maram and kuzhal are the musical instruments used in kalikettu. This dramatic form is still performed in the surrounding places of Kattukambal, in Trissoor.

Kaliyoottu

This is a ritual event in Tiruvananthapuram district. The performers are Nairs. The myth of the folk drama is based upon the fight between Kali and Darika and the victory of Kali. This could be said as the parallel of mudiyettu, as the myth and important characters are same in both forms.

This is a nine day long event. The pre-rituals start with the offering made to Bhadrakali and Ashtadikpalakas. Then a kuruthi tharpanam ritual is performed. Other important rituals take place at the kavalmatappura which is situated outside the temple.

Thottampattu accompanied with musical instruments karatika and chengila takes place on the first day. Vellattamkali is a dance performed as per the rhythms of karatika with white costumes. Kurutholacchattam, question and answer by the questioner and other performers, again Vellattamkali and kurutholacchattam, purappad of Ayiranippara, purappad of Kaviludaya Nair and Kaniyan, purappad of Pulaya, appearance of drunkard, paradesi Brahman, and perumal and mudiyuzhicchil are the important events in kaliyoottu. The final scene is nilatthil poru. Two huge platforms are erected which have a height about 50 feet which are fixed north and south of the temple. This is a level for appearing Kali and Darika for their fight. Thousands of people gather in the temple to witness the ritual event. For this purpose big platforms are erected. Kaliyoottu concludes after the fight between Kali and Darika.

Kaliyoottu is still performed in the Bhadrakali temples of south Kerala especially at Sarkkara temple.

Malayankettu

This is an exorcistic ritual practiced in the districts of Kannur and Kasargode by the Malaya caste. The ritual is performed to ward off evil spirits which are supposed to have affected beautiful women and causes barrenness. The woman sits in the pandal which is decorated with tender coconut leaves and flowers. The figures of evil spirits are drawn with coloured powders which, is called panchavarnappodi.

The exorcists sing certain songs, praising the deities like gulikan, rakteswari, bhairavan, kuttissathan, pillateeni, karukalakki etc. During this time the respective theyyams appear in front of the woman and dance. She shows the signs of possession and lay down unconscious. The belief is that all the evil spirits are eradicated. Malayankettu commences in the evening and concludes in the early morning. Chenda and elathalam are the musical accompaniments.

Margamkali

This is a martial dance form practiced by the Christians of Kottayam District. References are seen in ramban songs about this art form. Margam kali is performed at the festival occasions of Church and marriages of Suriyani Christians.

Twelve men stand around a lighted nilavilakku and dance with song. Song and chuvadu (steps) have equal importance. They dance fourteen padangal with different songs. White dhoti, banian and talekkettu (turban) are used as costumes. Lighting of nilavilakku and rangavandanam are the preliminary rituals. Titthaka thintha, mukkanni, kaccappatta and irattappadam are the important chuvadukal.

Margamkali originated from the word margam or vazhi (way). St. Thomas, the disciple of Christ reached India to spread his messages. His travel, wonderful deeds and death are depicted in the fourteen padams. Certain historical facts related to the old testament and old churches are seen in the songs of margamkali.

Maritheyyam


This is an exorcistic ritual as well as dramatic performance practiced by the Pulaya community of Kannur district on the sixteenth day of the month of karkidakam. This is performed to ward off evil spirits like mari and mamaya. The performance is done near the premises of madaikkavu, the famous temple of Kolathiris. Marikkalivan, mamayakkalivan, marikkalichi, mamayakkalichi, marikkuliyan, and mamayakkuliyan are the characters of the play. Costumes are made of tender coconut leaves. Some of the characters wear beautiful wooden masks. They dance when the drummers sing the myth of maritheyyam. They visit near by houses after the performance in the temple. The final ritual of maritheyyam is the ritual on the seashore. Thudi and chengila are the musical instruments used for the performance. Mariyattam is another name for this ritual art.

Mudiyattam

This is a community entertainment performed by the women dancers of Malaveda tribes of Pathanamthitta district. The myth is same as poramadiyattam. This is one of the few folk dances which is exclusively performed by women folk.

When the fight between Siva and Arjuna went on Siva, who was very much tired happened to fall down. Parvathi appeared there as a malavedathi, with her untied hair. This myth is preserved through mudiyattam.

Mudiyettu

This is a ritual drama vogue in Ernakulam and Kottayam districts. Kuruppanmar and Maranmar are the performers. Mudiyettu takes place in Kali temples.

The myth is the fight between Kali and Darika. The sage Narada informs Siva the evil deeds of the demons Darika and Danavendra. For the well being of the people of earth, Siva creates Kali to kill the demons. After a long fight she succeeds in killing them. Kali is worshipped as a Mother Goddess who protects from small-pox. The first ritual is drawing of the kalam of Kali with coloured powders on the mandapa of the temple. Kalampooja is the next ritual. This is done by the Brahman as well as the Kurup. One chief priest erases the kalam with tender coconut leaves from bottom to top. The face is erased with hands. The used material of the kalam is served to the devotees by the priest as prasadam. Then the make-up begins.

The musicians gather in front of the lighted lamp and play with the drums and elathalam which is called arangathu keli. After that they sing a raga, kedaragoula.

The conversations of Siva and Narada, entrance of Darika, entrance of Kali and Kooli, the fight between Kali and Darika, entrance of koyimbidarar, eloping of Darika to patala, the final fight between Kali and Darika, killing of Darika by removing the headgear symbolically are the important sequences of the performances. These could be divided into eight scenes. Mudiyettu comes very close to a drama.

The improvisations of Kooli, the dialogues of koyimbidarar with drummers are quite interesting episodes in mudiyettu. The costume and make-up of mudiyettu have close similarity with kathakali. The ritual normally takes place on the bharani nakshatra of the Malayalam month meenam. Mudiyettu is a ritual as well as a dramatic performance in which ritual elements and artistic elements are intermingled.

Padayani

Padayani is a ritual art form of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts. Kadammanitta, Othera, Chengannur are some of the places, where padayani is still existing.

After the slaying of the demon Darika, Kali goes back to Kailasa to meet Siva. But her anger is not extinguished. So Siva sends various kolams as per the advice of Subrahmanya. At last, by seeing the kolam of Bhairavi, which is the same figure of Kali, she laughed and thus the anger is quenched. This is the myth of padayani.

Padayani starts as a procession which is comprised of various kolam, musical

accompaniments, indigenous torches etc. from a place distant from the Devi temple. Small groups of people join it and the procession becomes a huge one when it reaches the temple premises. Kappoli, pulavrittam and thavadi are some of the important rituals in padayani.

Kutira (horse) Ganapathy, pakshi (bird), Yakshi, Madan, Marutha, Pisash, Kalan and Bhairavi are the important kolams appearing in this ritual form. Tappu is the dominant musical instrument of padayani. The performers also use chenda and elathalam. The musicians sing and the kolams dance. This is a folk theatre form in which audience participation takes place widely during the performance. All the castes take part in padayani, but Nairs seem to domine. Make-up and preparation of masks and headgears are done by Ganakas.

Poorakkali

This is a folk dance performed by the men of Kasargode and Kannur districts. This could be classified as a folk drama as well as a martial dance. No instrument is used in this art form. Thiyyas, Chaliyars, Maniyanis, Kammalas (blacksmith) Mokeyar (Fishermen) are the castes, participating in poorakkali.

Pooram is an important festival of north Kerala which could be said as a parallel of tiruvathira. The myths of both dance forms are same. Poorakkali is performed in the shrines and temples of north Kerala as part of the pooram festival. It starts from karthika nakshatra in the Malayalam month meenam and concludes on pooram nakshatra of the same month.

There are eighteen nirams (scenes) in poorakkali. Style of presentation, raga and mood are different in each niram.

Marathukali is the second part of poorakkali. This means, the competition of two troupes. Only the leaders of the groups participate in the arguments, question and answers etc. Chidambarasasthra, yogasastra, bharatha sastra, natyasasthra and yogi natakam are the important parts of marathukali.

Poramadiyattam

Poramadiyattam is a folk drama performed by the tribe Malavedar of Pathanamthitta district. This is performed during Onam season. The performers visit the houses and perform poramadiyattam. Maram and kaluvi are the musical instruments. The important characters in the play are Siva and Parvathi. All the performers are male.

Thoppippala and the uduthukettu of kuruthola are the costumes of Siva. He will be holding a sword and shield. Parvathi will be having a red cloth tied on the head.

A small stick will be on her hand. She will be also having muthumala, kaithamara, chilambu and red cloth fixed on the waist.


The myth behind this is the story of pasupatastram. Siva disguised himself as a veda to test Arjuna. This tradition is followed by the Malavedas.

Porattunatakam

This is a folk theatre form vogue in the districts of Palakkad and Trissoor. The content and style of the play proves that it is originated by Tamil influence. This is a secular play performed in public places as a social entertainment. There is no specific story for porattunatakam. Different castes and their foolish deeds are exposed in the play and through this a story is unfolded.

Dasi, mannanum mannathiyum, cherumanum cherumiyum, kuravanum kurathiyum, kavarayaum kavarachiyum, bafoon and chodyakkaran
(who asks questions) are the important characters. The entire performance is pinpointed on social criticism through satirical songs and dialogues.

Members of Pana community are the performers. Chenda, maddalam, cymbals and harmonium are the musical accompaniments. Make-up and costume are realistic.

The play starts in the night and goes on till early morning.

Sarppam Thullal

This is a magical ritual practiced by the Pulluva caste for the prosperity of the family. Apart from songs in praise of snakes, specific offerings are given to the snake deities. It was practiced all over Kerala in olden times. The ritual is known as sarppakkalam and pampinthullal.

A sarppakkalam is drawn in the courtyard of the house which is decorated properly. Nagayakshi, ashtanagakkettu are some of the figures in the kalams. Two girls sit in front of the kalam and the song is started by the exorcists with the accompaniments of pulluvakkudam, pulluva veena and elathalam. There is a ritual named thiriyuzhichal in sarppampattu. The girl is getting possessed and dances with serpent-like movements. The atmosphere, musical instruments etc. lead the girl to such a state of possession.

Seethakkali

Seethakkali is a folk theatre form still prevalent in the eastern parts of Taliparambu (Kannur district) performed by the tribe, Karimbalars. In olden days, it was a theatre piece enacted at paddy fields. This helped the watchmen of the ponam (paddy field) to be awake the whole night for protecting the crop. Nowadays the performers visit house after house and present this dramatic form. The period of the performance is kanni and tulam of Malayalam month.

Edeelappan and Edeelamma of Tekkemala were unhappy as they have no children. They worship all the deities for an offspring. At last their worship is heard by the deities and edeelamma gives birth to a child which was neither a boy nor a girl. Nevertheless the child had resemblance with female and so they named her Seeta. Even though they worshipped the deities again and again the child became more ugly. Because of the ugliness she was not treated well by her parents as well as the villagers. Her father kept her in a fort. Pottan and panian were the watchmen of the fort. They were sympathetic to her. Seeta left the fort and they accompanied her. They begged their food for Seetha and acted as her bodyguard. Their wandering is enacted in the form of Seethakkali.

Tudi and cymbals are the musical accompaniments. Pottan and panian wear masks. Seetha's costume and make-up are very similar to the minukku of kathakali. The role of Seeta is taken by male actors.

Theyyattom

Theyyam
is the most colourful and spectacular ritual theatre form of Kerala. The meaning of the word theyyam is Daivam i.e. 'God'. Theyyattom means the dance of God. In theyyattom the performer is supposed to transform himself into God. The worship of Mother Goddess, ancestor, hero, animal, snake are the important theme of theyyam dance. People who died in the battlefield, innocent women who had to commit suicide, persons killed by the local chieftains were deified and they were propitiated in the form of theyyams in front of the shrines. All the villagers gather there and seek blessings.

There are about four hundred varieties in theyyattom. Each has got its own myth, costumes, make-up, choreography and songs. The period of theyyam festival is between tulam and edavam.

Tender coconut leaves and red clothes are the materials for costume. The structure of headgear and uduthukettu (waist-dress) are made of arecanut tree and bamboo. Huge headgears and lighted wicks fixed on the waist are some of the characteristics of theyyattom.

There are two stages in theyyattom: thottam, the preliminary ritual and theyyam. For some theyyams there will be another stage named vellattom. The myth of the deity is recited by thottam, in terms of songs with musical accompaniments. At the end of thottam the possession takes place. There will not be elaborate make-up and costume for thottam. Theyyam is the second stage. To establish the super - human level, costumes, headgears and facial make-up are employed to that of super - human characters. Theyyams hear the complaints and requests of the people and console them by giving prasadam.

Malayan, Pulayan, Vannan, Anjoottan, Munnutton, Velan, Chungathan, Koppalan and Mayilon are some of the castes who, perform theyyam. Erstwhile Kolathunadu is the area where theyyams are still performed. Rakthachamundi, Vishnumurthy, Panchuruli, Pottan, Kathivanur Veeran, Muchhilottu Bhagavathi, Palothu Daivam, Makkappothi, Puthiya Bhagavathi, Vayanattu Kulavan, Ucchitta, Gulikan, Nagakanni, Mutiappan, Veerali, Puliyoru kali, Puliyoru Kannan, Kuttissasthav are some of the theyyams performed even now.

Chenda, veekku chenda, elathalam and kurumkuzhal are the musical instruments used in theyyatom.

Thirayattom

Thirayattom is a ritual dance form of Kozhikode district. This is the local variation of theyyattom. As in theyyam, thira is taking place in the shrines (kavus). Mother Goddess worship, hero worship, spirit worship and serpent worship are the sources of thirayattom. Thirayattom is performed for the prosperity of the villagers.

There are three stages in thira ie., vellattom, thirayattom and chanthattom which means childhood, youth and old age respectively.

Mannans and Panans are the castes who perform thira. Chamundi, Bhadra, Rakteswari, Bhadrakali, Neelikkali (Mother Goddess), Rakshasas, Murthees (spirits), Nagakkali (serpant), and Ankakkaran are some of the important kolams in thirayattom. Bhairavan, Kuttissasthav, Gulikan, Ghandakarnan are some of the puranic characters in thira.

Thirayattom starts in the morning when the theertham (sacred water) is brought in a kumbham from a nearby Bhagavathi temple. The koyma (trustee) choppan (chief velicchappadu) other velichappadanmar and drummers accompany the procession. Odakkam, is the prelude for starting thirayattom. Chenda, kurumkuzhal and elathalam are the musical accompaniments.