Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, is a grand carnival that extends for ten days during August-September. Celebrated with fun and fervor, the highlights of the festival are songs, dances, Vallamkali (snake boat race), feasting and Pookkalam (floral carpet). Right from Attam (the first day of Onam), people are busy in the preparations for the big day - Thiruvonam, the tenth day of the festival. One of the traditions of Onam festival is performance of dance forms that are native to Kerala. Apart from being vibrant, the dances are very colorful. The mesmerizing performances of the artists leave the spectators simply awestruck. In the following lines, we have provided information on the popular dances performed on Onam.
Traditional Onam Dances
One of the popular dance forms of Kerala, Kathakali is performed by professional artists. If you visit Kerala on the festive season of Onam, you will get to see the performances of the dance-drama in Shornur, Kovalam and most importantly, Cheruthuruthy. Kathakali is a highly stylized classical dance, which involves the depiction of scenes from Hindu mythology, the most prominent being Ramayana and Mahabharata.
A colorful mask-dance, Kummatti Kali is widely popular in South Malabar parts of Kerala. During Onam, the artists (generally men) of the folk dance clad themselves in skirts that are woven out of plaited grass. The artists wear heavily painted funny masks made of saprophyte, jack fruit tree, Alstonia scholaris, Hog Plum tree or the Coral tree. They go from door to door to entertain people, in return of which they collect small gifts. They generally depict characters from Hindu mythology, including Krishna, Narada, Kiratha, Darika, or hunters.
Pulikali / Kaduvakali
Also referred to as Kaduvakali, Pulikali is a colorful recreational folk art from the state of Kerala, performed on Nalaam Onam (two days after Thiruvonam) by trained artists. During the folk dance, the artists (generally men) are painted like tigers and hunters in bright yellow, red and black color. They dance to the rhythmic beats of instruments including Udukku and Thakil. The artists are accompanied by a procession of many others. Pulikali is one of the highlights of Onam.
Thumbi thullal is a fascinating all-women folk dance, performed on the occasion of Onam. The lead performer of the dance is called 'Thumbi', who sits at the center of the circle of women. She starts to sing a song, while other women join her by clapping hands. As the dance proceeds, the tempo of the song increases. Thumbi, who holds a bunch of Thumba leaves, starts moving at her position, just like a possessed woman. The performance is culminated by decreasing the tempo of the song.
Also referred to as 'Thiruvathirakali', Kaikotti Kali is a famous folk dance of Kerala, performed by women. Eight to twelve women encircle a brass lamp. They are clad in traditional Kerala saree or set mundu, bedeck their tied hair with jasmine garlands and accessorize themselves with gold jewelry. The dancers bend downwards, move sideways in order to go in sync and clap with their fellow dancer. The graceful and symmetric steps of the group dance are backed by rhythmic music of the song that is sung in the background, by two to four women.