Thirayattam Folk Dance, Kerala

Kozhikode and Malabar region in Kerala in India has its own divine dance–drama form known as Thirayattam. It is believed to be performed to attain the blessing and grace of the deities of the land for many centuries. The traditions and customs followed in this vibrant art dates back to ancient times. Peruvannan community of this region has traditionally the right to perform this ancient art form. In recent times, members of Cherumar and Panan communities also enact this divine ritual. Each community has their own unique style, customs and costume while executing this art. Thirayattam dance is performed in the courtyard of ‘kaavukal’ or the sacred groves or in the religious shrines in the northern part of Kerala.

Thirayattam is enacted on various themes including divinities and legendary social figures whose heroic feats are popular in the region. Natives celebrate Thirayattam with great devotion towards their deities known as ‘Koolam’ or ‘Moorthy’. Dancers disguise themselves as ‘Koolam’ in vibrant unique costumes and ornaments.

The two important aspects of ‘koolam’s costume is the Mughamezhuthu (facial paintings) and melezhuthu (body paintings) which is done by skilled artisans. Makeup is derived from natural items like leaves and barks or bamboo and coconut trees are used for mask, hair and beards. The performers go in to trance with the ‘koolam’ they enact with vivacious aggressive moves and postures believed to be sacred. Dancers need to have great flexibility while performing Thirayattam dance. Some believe many forms of martial arts have originated from it. Some of the weapons like “Val” (sword), “Paricha” (shield),“Shoolam” (trident),“Kuntham” (Sphere), “ AmbumVillum” (Bow and arrow) to name a few are commonly used in Thirayattam.

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