Pakshi Kolam dancers performing at Padayani festival, Kerala
Padayani, also called Padeni, (from the word for military formations) is a traditional folk dance and a ritual art from the central portion of the Indian state of Kerala. A ceremonial dance involving masks, it is an ancient ritual performed in Bhagavati temples. The dance is performed in honor of Bhadrakaali. Meaning, a 'row of warriors', Padayani is an art form that blends music, dance, theatre, satire, facial masks, and paintings. It is part of worship of Bhadrakali and is staged in temples dedicated to the goddess from mid-December to mid-May. Padayani is unique to central Travancore, comprising the Pathanamthitta-Alappuzha-Kottayam belt of Kerala. Padayani is regarded as a remnant of the Dravidian forms of worship that existed before the advent of Brahmanism. Padayani is like Theyyam in north kerala. The percussion instruments used in Patayani are patayani thappu, chenda, para and kumbham.
Padyani is a modern form of a ritual dance( Kolam thullal) performed by the magico-medicine men of kerala (particularly Tinta sect of Ganaka community ) . Earlier this elaborate and expensive event was carried out to heal the illnesses not amenable to medical modalities of intervention. In the form of psychic or spiritual healing, it was solely designed, controlled and performed by Tinta endogenous section of Ganaka, as a method of exorcism. This folk art has become a divine ritual tradition in association with festival occasions of Bhagavathy (Bhadrakaali) temples of Kerala. Since the origin of term padayani relates with military parade or rows of army, it is generally believed that it is evolved from a symbolic past reminiscent of fencing march of martial art (Kalari) by the Nair fighters and their Preceptors - Kalari Asans (Kaniyar Panicker) to frighten the enemy troop and to show their might. Eventually in Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Kottayam districts of Kerala, the Nair folk became the performers of the modern form of Padayani art, but the design and making of costumes vested with Kaniyar people.
Padayani is very popular in Kerala, India, as a means, used to worship goddess kali. The story line comes as after killing daruka, an asura, goddess was in anger. The bhoothagana, servants of lord siva, danced in front of her to reduce her anger, else her anger would result in the destruction of the whole world. In memory of this incident, the participants wear masks (kolam) made of lathes of the areca tree using one to hundreds. The colours used to make kolam are purely natural. They are made of the green of the lath itself (kamukin pacha), kari (carbon), manjalpodi, sindooram etc.
A major attraction of padayani is the song associated with it. Traditionally only a single type of instrument is used to associate the song, thappu. The songs are in simple malayalam and have been handed down from the ancestors over the years. The art form starts with heating the musical instrument, thappu (Thappu Choodakkal). The instrument is faced towards the fire and the instrument tuned. After that, the art form starts. Various types of dances have different names such as madan, marutha, yakshi, pakshi, kalan kolam and bhairavi kolam. Marutha is the little ones and they are like a drama. They are dancing to make fun along with the songs.
The kolam is performed by men as well as children. Kalan Kolam is the major attraction in padayani. This is about a child who is begging his life to lord siva while death comes in his 16th birthday. At that time kalan, the god of death, comes and he is trying to take the life of markandaya, the boy. Bhairavi kolam is the dance to worship goddess. It is the biggest kolam and uses many laths of areca tree. The kolam is headed by more than one person due to its heavy weight. After the kolam thullal is over, there will be ritual called pooppada which is the end of the padayani festival. After that, the days of colours will be over and the colourful memories will be in the minds. The waiting for the next padayani will starts then...with a prayer for the wellness of all world.
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