Kummattikali: Kerala’s Masked Marvel of Legends

Kummattikali, a unique and captivating performance, stands out in the colourful tapestry of Kerala’s festivities. Traditionally performed during the Onam festival, this folk dance comes to life with a stunning display of masks, music, and movement. Kummattikali, which originated in the Thrissur District and certain sections of the Malabar Coast, mixes old traditions, devout fervour, and a dash of humour to create an experience worth witnessing. If you plan to experience the magic of Kummattikali, be sure to visit the Thrissur area, where it is a common and cherished tradition during the Onam season. The Bhadrakali temple in Palakkad district hosts a pristine or the most original form of Kummattikali.

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Exploring the Origins and Traditions

The performers, clothed in precisely crafted masks, travel from house to house, adding a touch of amusement and mysticism to the celebrations. But it’s not just the visual splendour of Kummattikali that defines it; it’s the legends and rituals that give this art form life. Kummattikali’s roots run deep, from the historic Bhadrakali temple in Palghat District to Lord Shiva’s stories, infusing each performance with a sense of devotion and storytelling. Dancers also grasp and manipulate long sticks of residuary agricultural produce known as ‘Kummattikali’, which is what gives the dance its name. Their dance has a connection to Shaiva mythology. ‘Thamma’, an elderly woman, walks in front, aided by a stick. Thamma represents the mother of all beings and everything.

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Kummattikali: Kerala's Masked Marvel of Legends

The Masks, Music, and Movement

The popular folk performance in Kerala has a long history dating back to the Palghat District and grew roots here and developed into a compelling form of creative expression.

Kummattikali’s enticement is centred mainly on its hypnotic masks. These masks, made of saprophyte, jackfruit tree, Alstonia scholaris, Hog Plum tree, or Coral tree, involve exquisite carvings of deities such as Krishna, Narada, Kiratha, and Darika. Each mask is a work of art, an opening to the spiritual realm, and a nod to Kerala’s rich mythology.

Kummattikali takes on a life of its own when accompanied by the resonant melodies of the ‘Onavillu,’ a stringed instrument constructed from palmyra stem and bamboo slivers. These melodic notes pour meaning into every movement, transforming the performance into a lively tale.

Kummattikali dancers’ costumes offer an aesthetic edge to the performance. Elegant and fancy skirts created from plaited grass wave rhythmically with each stride. Some dancers go even further, wrapping their entire bodies in thick bundles of grass to create a whimsical look. The inclusion of the ‘talla,’ which is placed on the mask to resemble an open, toothless mouth, enhances the expressive faces of the masks.

A Vivid Retelling of Legends

Kummattikali’s themes are inspired by various sources, including ‘Darika Vadham,’ the ‘Ramayana’, ‘Manjan Nayare Pattu,’ and ‘Lord Shiva’ stories. Through detailed movements, expressive masks, and intriguing music, each performance vividly recounts these ancient events.

Kummattikali remains an embodiment of strength in an ever-changing world, celebrating Kerala’s tradition that survives through generations. As the masked dancers twirl and charm the audience, they remind us that certain customs should be treasured and preserved and not just viewed.

So, if you happen to be in the colourful state of Kerala, don’t miss the chance to witness the amazing spectacle of Kummattikali. It’s more than just a dance; it’s an immersion into an entire universe where history, spirituality, and artistry combine to create an experience unlike any other. Allow Kummattikali’s masks and melodies to transport you to a world where history is alive and well.

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