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Tamilnadu : Folk Dance & Music

Tamilnadu has rich tradition of folk arts and crafts displaying traditions skill and dexterity handed down from generations. The folk Music and Dances represent the fustic ethos, aesthetic values and melody. The conduct of folk dances and music on occasions of temple festivals and community functions gives entertainment, myrth and merry to the villagers. The Therukoothu (Street Play), Thappattai Attam, Karagam and Kavadi, Dummy Horse dance and Peacock Dance, Oyilattam and Silambam are all rural programmes of art forms, very old but not archai-still conducted and enjoyed by people with abiding interest and enhusiasm.

The more celebrated forms of village folk dances are: Oyilaatam, Oyil Kummi, Devaraattam, Karagaattam, Kaavadi Aattam, Kali Aattam, Kolaattam, Theru Koothu, Kazhai Koothu, Villu Paattu, Chakkai Aattam, Kai Silambu Aattam, Kummi, Bagavatha nadanam, PuliAattam and other fancy dress dances, Kuravan- kurathi Aattam, Poikkal Kudirai Aattam, Thappattaiattam, Silambaattam, Sevai Aattam, Ottan Koothu, Urumi Aattam and Snake dance.


DancerKaragam is a folk dance with musical accompaniment performed balancing a pot on the head. Traditionally, this dance was performed by the villagers in praise of the rain goddess Mari Amman and river goddess, Gangai Amman. In Sangam literature, It is mentioned as 'Kudakoothu'. This dance has two divisions- one, Aatta Karagam and the other Sakthi Karagam performed with a fire pot on the head. In Mariamman or Durga temple as ritual dance, It is called 'Sakthi Karagam'. More often it is danced with decorated pot on the head and is known as 'Aatta Karagam' and symbolises joy and merriment.

The dance is performed in temples and on festival occasions as entertainment. This is one of the more popular rural dances today. Earlier it was performed only to the accompaniment of Naiyandi Melam but now it includes songs also. 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 Tamilnadu, though its birth place is said to be Thanjavur. 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.


The ancient Tamils when they went on pilgrimage, carried the offerings to the gods tied on either end of a 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 origins in this practice. Special songs were composed to be sung while carrying the Kavadi, which were known as Kavadi Sindhu. The Kavadi is a semi-canopy made of bambo strips and a light pole. The cover of Kavadi in saffron cloth decoated with Peacock feathers and balancing pots on both ends embellish the tiny Kavadi. This is mainly a religious dance, performed in worship of Lord Muruga. The dance is accompanied by Pambai and Naiyandi Melam.


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-weight materials and the cloth at the sides swings to and fro covering the legs of the dancer. The dancer dons wooden legs which sound like the hooves of the horse. The dancer brandishes either a sword or a whip. This folk dance needs much training and skill.


Puppet shows are held in every village during festivals and fairs. Many kinds of puppets are used for the show. 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.


Normally conducted during village festivals, during the months of Panguni and Aadi. This is performed where three or four streets meet; 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 are also played by them. The performance consists of story-telling, dialogue rendering, songs and dance, all performed by the artistes. The stories are 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 day. The performance is so captivating that the audiences are spell - bounded unaware of the long hours.


Oyil means beauty. This dance is hence the dance of beauty. Traditionally, it is danced only by men. Ten years ago women also began to participate. First a few people will stand in a row and start dancing with rhythmic steps with musical accompaniment. Intricate steps are used, which are much similar to those used in martial arts, such as Silambaattam. Then gradually the row will become longer as the new comers and guests all join and dance along as they like. The dancers were ankle-bells. Normally, the dance is performed with the accompaniment of musical instruments and songs.


Kol Silambam or fighting with long stick and even with swords is a martial art extant from the days of Tamil Kings. Fights were characterised by moves 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 self defence in modern day world.


Devarattam is a pure folk dance still preserved by the descendants of Veerapandiya Kattabomman dynasty at Kodangipatti in 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 Devaraattam is a combination of ancient muntherkuravai and pintherkuravai.


The main singer here is accompanied by a chorus, musical instrument 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 narrates a tale, interspersed with lively songs. This is a popular folk art form which has appeal to village community and the urban section as well.


Yet another typical- specially 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- fitting costume designed like the snake-skin. The dancer stimulates the movements of the snake, writhing and creeping, at times making quick biting movements with the head and hands. The raised hands held together look like the hood of a snake.


The whirring sounds of 'urumi' (Percussion instrument) providing the melody and the rhythmically beat of the Thappu accompany the dance sequence in this kind of temple art form. This is conducted on the occasion of temple festivals. The sound in mellifluous tone keeps one spell bound during the festival of rural community.

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