Friday, August 31, 2012

Aranmula Snake-Boat Race

Aranmula Snakeboat Race which is a spectacular event during Onam Celebration is held at Aranmula of Pathanamthitta District in Kerala State every year.
This  water festival will be on the fifth of 'Thiruvonam Day' which is known as 
'Uthrittathi star day'.
Hindus of Kerala celebrates festivals and birthdays according to the  27 stars from 'Aswathy to Revathy' according to Malayalam Calendar and 'Uthrittathi' is the 26 th Star day.
It is believed that the Idol of 'Parthasaradhy Temple' at Aranmula was consecrated by Pandava Prince Arjuna on 'Uthrittathi star Day' and this water festival is held to commemorate it.It is believed that the idol was brought to Aranmula on a canoe and several canoes and Snakeboats accompanied it as a procession.
It is also believed that the birthday of Pandava Prince Arjuna is on 'Uthrittathi 
star day' of this month.
Snakeboats are wooden boats made of typical  wood  known as 'Aanjili' which are 100 to 140 feet long.Snakeboats  were used earlier by Kings of Kerala for Military purposes.This kind of vessels can carry 100 to 120 oarsmen including  singers.The boat is controlled by 4 helmsmen and the oarsman at the tip of the boat.The oarsmen can decide the speed only.If they row fast the boat will also move fast. The Snakeboats used for Aranmula boat race are considered sacred and have connection with Aranmula Sree Krishna Temple.
At present 48 Snakeboats which are known as 'Palliodams' are participating for Aranmula boat race which is held in  holy River Pamba near to Aranmula Temple.
Earlier this water festival which is known as 'Aranmula Jalolsavam' was held 
as a display of these  well decorated Snakeboats rowing in harmony with the rhythm of songs.The songs used for this purpose are taken from a text of poetry known as 'Kuchela Vritham Vanchipattu' written by a poet known as 'Ramapurathu Warrier'.At present a boat race is also held after the array of harmonious rowing and display for the viewer's as well as rower's enthusiasm.Snakeboats are the longest water vessel used for sports purposes.
The snakeboats used for Aranmula boat race are registered under the society  'Aranmula Pallioda Seva Sangham' and they belongs to 'Karaas' which are Village wards on the banks of River Pampa  which extends from 'Ranny' to 'Chennithala'.The boat races are held in two categories 'A' and  'B' according to the length of Snakeboats.The snakeboats belonging to 'A' category will be approximately 140 feet long where as 'B' category boats are around 120 feet long.In Malayalam  Snakeboats are known as 'Chundan Vallam' and Chundan Vallam of Aranmula group are called as "Palliodams' also since they are considered as sacred.The rowers and singers will be people belonging to the same 'Kara' who are the owners of the boats.At Aranmula, boat festivals are held on 'Thiru Onam star day' , 'Uthrittathi Star day', and on 'Ashtami Rohini Day'.The birthday of Sreekrishna is 'Ashtami Rohini Day'.On these days all the rowers will be served feast from Aranmula Temple which is known as 
'Valla Sadya'.It is believed that by providing feast to the rowers of Snakeboats 
the Lord 'Parthasaradhy' who is 'Sree Krishna' will be propitiated and hence there are so many sponsors to offer 'Valla Sadya' to rowers every year.The sponsors can decide their preference of Palliodams and date for the offer of feast.As per the invitation the boat will arrive at Aranmula to have their feast.
These are all traditional ritualistic customs.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Entertainment Activities During Onam

Onam, the largest festival of Kerala has already started which is roughly a two week celebration.It started this year on 'Atham star Day' (Tuesday 21 August 2012) and the grand festival days are on 28,29,30 and 31 Aug 2012 out of which the main day is 29 Aug  which is 'Thiru Onam Day'.The celebration is up to 3 Sept and on that day the Government sponsored celebrations at Trivandrum and all District Headquarters will also cease.On 3 Sept there will be a splendid procession of a large scale at Trivandrum city in the evening.
From 21 Aug to 29 sept a flower arrangement in circular shape known as 'Pookkalam' using fresh flowers of different varieties are put in front of the houses early in the morning by girls of the family.The necessary flower buds are collected by boys 
daily evening by climbing on trees,walls etc.Now a days many people have to buy flowers from the market.
The enthusiasm of Onam is great and traditionally there are several playful entertainment activities carried out during this period.
Thiruvathira Kali
Thiruvathira Kali is also known as 'Kaikottikali' which is a traditional dance form of Kerala performed by women.Young girls up to middle aged women can participate in it but usually participants will be of the same age group for a particular 'Thiruvathira Kali'.The players wear Kerala style white clothes with golden or coloured border(Set Sari or Mundu and Neryathu).Usually eight or ten participants stand in a circular shape around a lighted brass oil lamp with wicks and dances to the tune of songs sung by other women.The players may sing along while dancing and the steps and movements are very much fascinating and charming.The elegance of the slowly played dance may occasionally turns vibrant and with swift movements they form different patterns go clockwise then anticlockwise, clap hands each other ,gentle hops are also there in between and all together the spectators can enjoy feminine beauty gracefully.The players also enjoys with their rhythmic, joyous  dancing.Thiruvathirakali is largely performed during 'Dhanu' month(Dec-Jan) but during Onam also this is a pastime and entertainment item for women.
Puli Kali or Kaduva Kali
This is a 300 year old Dance item performed by men during Onam days largely in Trissur and Palakkad Districts but can be seen everywhere in Kerala in small scale during Onam period.The men paint their body with yellow,black and red colour after shaving off the body hair and turn themselves to Tigers or Leopards.In a play there may be two or three players painted like this and another man with  a toy gun act as a hunter.The tiger and leopard characters with  painted body  and wearing masks dance to the tune of drums.They will display wonderful dancing talents  which requires proper training and stamina also.They will pounce as a tiger,jump,run;  all according to the drum beats.The spectators also join in the dance occasionally.On the fourth day of Onam, at Trissur Swaraj Round hundreds of Tiger/Leopard Dancers assemble every year and perform together which is an attractive event.

The swing is made and slung on high branches of trees during Onam period and children and young girls love to play on it.In rural areas in each and every family we can see the swing during this time.Some children have the practice to fly high on the swing with amazing  control sitting and in standing posture also.
Snake Boat Race
Snake Boat Races are held at several places during Onam period in Kerala.The "Uthrittathi Boat Race' at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta District is the biggest event which will be on 2 Sept 2012 this year.Snake boat races at Paippadu,Kumarakom,Neerettupuram,Thiruvanvandoor,Chengannur(Erapuzha),
etc are main events in this regard which attracts thousands of spectators.
Kummatti Kali
This is a dance form of Northern Kerala  performed during  Onam.The players cover their body with a special type of grass and leaves and wear wooden masks.They wear masks of  Gods and evil characters like Shiva,Krishna,Hanuman,Darika,Kiratha, etc.An old lady character by name 'Thamma' will be also there.The players moves from house to house and dances according to the tune of a musical instrument known as 'Ona Villu'.
This dance variety  does not need any proper training and the spectators also dances along with them usually.
Thumbi Thullal
This was a pastime for women in the villages during Onam period.Usually it is played by young girls.They sit around and one of them sit at the centre covering her face with a herbal plant known as 'Thumba' which bears small white flowers.The girls sing 'Onapattukal' meant for 'Thumbi Thullal'.The word 'Thumbi' means Dragon Fly.When the chorus of the girls continue for some time  the centre girl will dance in sitting posture moving her body  in sway to and fro and side to side.

These are some famous playful activities in the State during Onam  but several other entertainment activities of Onam are also seen regionally.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Krishnanattam And Ottan Thullal

In the twelfth century there lived a Poet in Puri,Orissa by name 'Jayadeva' who

 wrote a famous book in poetic form about Krishna and Radha known as 'Geetha Govinda'.(Song about Krishna).This book is divided in to eight chapters and another name of this book is 'Ashtapadi'.This  poem is well known all over India and still in Kerala the versus from this text is sung using a percussion instrument 'Idakka' in temples during pooja time.  This ritual is known as "Kottipadi Sewa".
The visual form of this poem was very famous in Kerala known as 'Ashtapadiyattam' which is not being conducted at present.
The costume and make-up for Astapadiyattam were adopted from Koodiyattam, Mudiyettu,Theyyam,Padayani etc .
Influenced by the poem 'Geetha Govindam' and its visual form 'Astapadiyattam' the Zamorin of Kozkikode (Calicut) 'Manaveda Raja' wrote a 
book in poetry about Lord Krishna in the name 'Krishna Geethi' .He made a new art form to visualize it which is known as  'Krishnattam'.
There  is an interesting story regarding this.Manaveda Raja (1585-1658 A.D.)
was a devotee of Krishna and he used to visit Guruvayoor Temple frequently.Vilwamangalam Swamy who was his contemporary and a Saint also visited Guruvayoor Temple and stayed there for many days performing worship.It was well known that Lord Krishna used to give vision to 'Vilwamangalam Swamikal'.So in his devout and eagerness Manaveda Raja pleaded   Vilwamangalam Swamy to request Lord Krishna to give vision for him at least once.Krishna agreed and  in his boyhood form he gave vision to Manaveda Raja the next day.Manaveda Raja in his effervescence of joy embraced Krishna.Krishna vanished suddenly with the comment "this was not in the agreement of Vilwamangalam" referring to the embrace of Manaveda Raja.Zamorin got a peacock feather of Krishna  from his hair while embracing him.Manaveda Raja felt guilty about  his action  later and he wrote Krishna Geethi and designed 
the Dance-Drama 'Krishnattam to propitiate Lord Krishna.The peacock feather which he got from Lord Krishna was used on a Crown(head gear) worn for the Krishna character in 'Krishnanattam' for a long period.
This art form was influenced by Koodiyattam,Astapadiyattam,Mudiyettu etc and the costumes which resembles such art forms are accepted for it.
The book 'Krishna Geethi' is divided in to eight parts and important incidents in Krishna's life is the content of each part.These are manifested  as separate
 plays like "Krishnavatharam,Kalia Mardanam,Rasakreeda,
Kamsavadham,Swayamvaram,Banayudham,Vividavadham  and Swargarohanam".
Ottan Thullal
'Sudha Maddalam,Thoppi maddalam,Ilathalam,Chengila are the  musical instruments used for this art form.Krishnattam is considered as a classic art form and now a days it is performed at Guruvayoor Temple daily.Devotees can arrange for its performance as an offering to the deity.
Seethangan Thullal
Kunchan Nambiar was a poet from the Hindu Community 'Nambiar' and they used to play the percussion instrument 'Mizhavu' during 'Chakyar Koothu' performance.Once while the Chakyar Koothu was in progress  which was usually conducted at night, Kunchan Nambiar who was playing 'Mizhavu' slept for awhile and Chakyar teased him on the spot  in public. Kunchan Nambiar felt ashamed and felt angry towards the  Chakyar  and as a revenge  he formed a new art form and performed next day itself  at the same temple  which attracted and delighted the audience very much.
Seethangan Tullal,Ottan Thullal and Parayan Thullal
Kunchan Nambiar was one among the court members of 'Ambalapuzha Maharaja' and this incidence happened at Ambalapuzha Krishna Temple.For the progress and enhancement of his new art form which was called as 'Ottan Thullal' he wrote several poetry books which are social  satire but acclaimed as intellectual classic works.He wrote books in 'Manipravalam' also which is a combined form of Malayalam and Sanskrit.He teased many sectors of the society pointing to the evils and mischiefs with good comedy in those books which are poetic forms of  stories from Mahabharatha,Ramayana etc.These songs are sung by the main Character who dances with gestures and two playback singers will repeat those versus using percussion instrument 'mridangam' and cymbols.Kunchan Nambiar designed the costume also for Ottan Thullal which is different from other art forms.Later Kunchan Nambiar became court member of 'Marthanda Varma Maharaja of Travancore' and stayed in Trivandrum.
 Even though this art form is generally termed as 'Thullal' or 'Ottan Thullal', according to the changes in costume and make-up three varieties of Thullal are there.They are "Ottan Thullal,Parayan Thullal and Seethankan Thullal".Out of these varieties  'Ottan Thullal' is visually more attractive and largely performed  during temple festivals.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012



Koodiyattam is an ancient Sanskrit Dance Drama prevailing In Kerala and it holds a  history of   more than 2000 years .In very old texts of the 
'Sangha' period and in  some other old texts  also mention of   'Koodiyattam' are found and   in epigraphs of Pallava,Chola and Chera periods details of this art form are seen.Some believes that it was originated in Kerala while some are of the belief that it was originated somewhere in South India only and not sure about the exact place of origin.A Chera King Kulasekhara Varman redefined Koodiyattam and also wrote two plays and staged them with the help of a Brahmin friend 'Thola'.Subhadraharana and Tapitisamvarana are the plays written by him which are staged now a days also.
Koodiyattam is Sanskrit dance drama which are written and played in accordance with the 'Natya Sastra' of Bhasa.The rules and regulations of Indian Theatre are written in detail in a  book by an ancient play writer 'Bhasa' and it was followed throughout India.The requirements for Sanskrit dramas according to the text are accomplished and rules also by Koodiyattam.In north India  and other parts also  with the decline of Sanskrit language 
Sanskrit Drama were all ceased where as in Kerala it still exists as in the form of Koodiyattam.The stories used for dramas for Koodiyattam are from  Hindu religious texts 'Ramayana' Bhagavatham' "Mahabharatha' etc.Several eminent writers wrote Sanskrit plays from stories taken from these texts and some famous plays used are " Subhadraharana, Kalyana Sougandika,Nagananda,Abhiseka,Pratima" etc.
Koodiyattam male characters were manifested by males of 'Chakyar community' of Hindu religion and female roles were played by females of 'Nambiar' community(Nangiaramma) of Hindu religion.The Koodiyattam dance drama was given a supremacy position and was permitted only in Temples.There were separate buildings in temple compounds to stage 'Koothu' and  'Koodiyattam' known as 'Koothambalam' which can be seen today also in all important temples of Kerala.
In India, only in Kerala exists a dance drama which follows the 'Natya Sastra'
even today and it is 'Koodiyattam'.
The actors recite the 'Sanskrit' slokas and scripts by themselves where as 
percussion of " Mizhavu, Edakka, Kurum Kuzhal,Kuzhithalam and Sanku"
 are provided by others.
The pot like instrument 'Mizhavu' is played by the community males of 'Nambiar' and Females of that community portrays  female roles  in the play.
The make-up and costumes of Koodiyattam are much elaborate and we can 
understand that 'Krishnanattam' and 'Kathakali'  influenced by Koodiyattam  and accepted many of such  
costume and Make up.
This art form emphasises the accomplishment of  'Natyam'(Acting and uses face expressions)'Nritham'(Dance),'Geetham' (songs) and 'Vadyam'( music by percussion instruments) all with equal importance.
Up to 1950 Koodiyattam was played only in temples and an exponent of Koodiyattam 'Mani Madhava Chakyar' took courage to take this art form outside temple yard.He and his troupe performed it at Madras in 1955 and later it was staged in centres like Bombay,New Delhi,Ujjain,Varanasi,Bhopal,Madurai etc.It was performed in New Delhi in the years 1964,66,74,79 and 83.In some other places also it was performed for more than once.As per the invitation from The President of India, Dr.S.Radhakrishnan it was played at Rashtrapathi Bhavan in 1964 and received accolades.Mani Madhava chakyar choreographed and directed plays like "Abhijnana Sakunthala,Vikramorvashiya,Malavikagnimitra,Swapnavasavadatha" also.
This art form is recognised by UNESCO as Masterpiece of the oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The name Koodiyattam Combined dance-drama) might have given to this art form because both Nambiar and Chakyar community are involved in it.Some think that more than one character are always on the stage and hence the name.
It is now taught to any community members and can be staged any where in the world.Kerala Kalamandalam conduct classes for koodiyattam and 'Margi' in Thiruvanathapuram is another famous institute in this regard.
During the temple festivals, performance of 'Koodiyattam' was a compulsory item in Kerala and the rulers in Kerala always gave much importance to it.

Koothu is an art form of Kerala in which the Stories related to Hindu texts such as "Bhagavatham,Ramayanam and Mahabharatham" are narrated in an attractive manner to the audience with the accompaniment of musical instruments by others.Stories are told in an elaborate way mixing songs sung in between and comedy stories are also included to make the audience cheerful.Males of 'Chakyar' community performed 'Koothu' and the main percussion instrument 'Mizhavu' was played by males of 'Nambiar' community.Females of Nambiar community played cymbals.Now any community members  who are trained in musical instruments and those trained in 'Koothu' can perform this art form.The story teller wear special dress designed for this art form and wears a special headgear and  have facial and body painting.