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DANCES IN TAMILNADU, INDIA

BHARATANATYAM, the most famous classical dance of India originated in TamilNadu.

BHARATA NATYAM

Bharata Natyam was the dance technique evolved in the South of India in Tamil Nadu
and practiced in the temples of Shiva. It is a highly specialised science with a traditional background and rigid codes and conventions. Bharata Natyam skillfully embodies the three primary ingredients of dancing. They are bhava or mood, raga or music and melody and tala or timing. The technique of Bharata Natyam consists of 64 principles of coordinated hand, foot, face and body movements which are performed to the accompaniment of dance syllables.

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For many centuries Bharata Natyam has been performed only by certain families in the district of Tanjore, these inheritors of the craft being known as 'Nattuvans'. The chief exponents of this dance were the Devadasis or temple dancers. They would perform the dance daily at the time of worship or on festive occasions. It came to be patronized by the Rajas and princes. In course of time Devadasis started dancing in the royal courts and thus its religious sanctity was lost.

Bharata Natyam stands in the forefront of all the classical dance arts now prevalent in India, owing to its religious origin and its highly developed technique. It is the form of dance most akin to the code compiled by the sage Bharata Muni in his famous 'Natya Shastra'. The modern form of Bharata Natyam presentation is the arrangement of four Nattuvans of Pandanallur. They were the brothers- Ponniah, Chinniah, Vadivelu and Sivanandam, who lived in the eighteenth century. The Vidwan, Menaskshi Sunderam Pillay of Pandanallur, the greatest teacher of Bharata Natyam is a direct descendant of the four brothers.

It was Rukmini Devi Arundale, the celebrated dancer and scholar who took this Dance form out of the temple and gave it a new respectability. She started a school at Tiruvanmiyur, (the village just outside Madras) named Kalak-Shetra. The age-old, 'Gurukulam' system of education is still followed and many classes are conducted in sylvan surroundings.

In the Nataraja temple-(temple of the dancing Shiva) at Chidambaram, poses of the classical Bharata Natyam are sculpted around the shrines and on the gate ways.
FOLK DANCES
Karagaattam : kararagam 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, performed with literature with water pots balanced on their heads. In Sangam literature, it is mentioned as 'Kudakoothu'. This dance has two divisions - one, Aatta Karagam and the other 'Sakthi Karagam'. More often it is danced with decorated pots on the head and is known as 'Aatta Karagam' and symbolises joy and merriment. The former is performed only in temples, while the latter is mainly entertainment in nature. This is one of the more popular rural dances today. Earlier it was performed only with accompliment of the Naiyandi Melam but now it includes songs also.

Karagams were once performed for mulaipari ceremony when the dancer carried a pot of sprouted grains on his/her head and danced, balancing it through intricate steps and body/arm movements. 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 arragements, 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. Most artistes hail from Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Pattukottai and Salem. This dance is danced by an individual or two persons. 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.

Kolattam :
Kolattam, derived from Kol( a small stick), and Attam (play) is the name of a charming Tamil dance practiced by groups of young girls. A festival connected with this art has both a cultural and a religious significance. According to legends, once there lived an Asura called Basavasura who could not be controlled by anybody. Some girls joined together in a group, went to this Asura and played Kolattam with charming music. The Asura was so pleased with the divine music and grace of the girls, that he gave up all his evil designs. This has since been celebrated as Kolatta Jothrai in a number of places in Tamil Nadu.

'Basava' - the bull, the personification of Shiva is the centre of the Kolattam festival, commencing every year on the new moon day of the October-November and ending on the full moon day. Daily, girls take their bath early in the morning in the holy rivers and they pick up a handful of grass and water in a small container and return to the place where they have installed the clay idol of Basava. The girls then offer the grass to lord Basava, place the water near the bull and worship. While playing Kolattam the girls visit some houses in the village to play Kolattam in each house. On the purnima day, scheduled for the immersion of Basava, the girls dressed in new clothes placing the Basava in a decorated palanquin ultimately immerse it in a river. In every stage of the festival, each girl has one stick in each of her hands and the stick in the hand of each girl is struck against those of the other girls in rotation, producing beautiful music.

Kavadi : Lord Muruga or Subrahmanya, the son of Lord Shiva, has annihilated all the evil forces of demons. He is said to be reside in six embattled field-camps called Padaiveedus. Palani and Thirupparakundram in Madurai district are two such holy places. They are hillocks described in mythology as carried by a giant called Idumban
slung on the two ends of a pole placed on his shoulder. This Idumban became one of the principal devotees of Lord Subrahmanya. He has a shrine half-way up the Palani hill and receives the first honours from all devotees proceeding to worship Subrahmanya.
Actually the worship of Lord Subrahmanya without paying homage to Idumban is considered ineffective. The carrying of Kavadi by pilgrims is symbolic of Idumban carrying the hillocks, the abodes of the Lord slung on a pole.

There are several kinds of Kavadis- the milk and rose-water Kavadi being the principal ones. The central shaft of the semi-circular wooden structure is placed on the shoulders and the pilgrims dressed in yellow costume and decorated with garlands, undergoing many privations to fulfill vows. They dance their way through the streets and up the hillock under the hypnotic music provided by the drum, the pipes and the tom-tom.

It is a Tandava as opposed to the Lasya form of dance. Extreme devotion prompts some Kavadi dancers to disfigure their lips. The lower lip is pierced through for the insertion of a copper or brass ring, often with a view to maintain silence. The dancers subject themselves to rigorous austerities and try to get rid of their ego, anger, lust and other vices. They dance to the tunes of Kavadi-c-cindu, sung by admiring groups of devotees who follow the dancers. The divine songs are rendered in charming music by a trained singer and repeated by others in chorus and the emotion-chocked dancer goes into raptures hearing them. Sometimes they react by shifting the Kavadi over their shoulder, head, nose etc. in see-saw position displaying great artistry with many a pose and movement in rhythm, unaided by hands.

Kavadi-c-cindu, a peculiar folk art of Tamil genius has blossomed into a literary and technically brilliant form. It gives a lilting tune and inspiration to listeners and relieves the bearer of the Avid of physical pain. It is also called Vazhinadai-cindu. It is sung by pilgrims while trekking long distances, to forget the tedium.

Kavadi-c-cindu, a peculiar folk art of Tamil genius has blossomed into a literary and technically brilliant form. It gives a lilting tune and inspiration to listeners and relieves the bearer of the Avid of physical pain. It is also called Vazhinadai-cindu. It is sung by pilgrims while trekking long distances, to forget the tedium.

Mayil Attam :
This is done by girls dressed as peacocks, resplendent with peacock feathers and a glittering head-dress complete with a beak. This beak can be opened and closed with the help of a thread tied to it, and manipulated from within dress.

Poikkal Kudirai Aattam :
This is the Dummy Horse Dance where the dancer
bears the dummi figure of a horse's body on his/her hips. This is made of light-weighted 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. This dance is accompanied by Naiyandi melam or Band music. This is connected to the worship of Ayyanar, prevails manily around Thanjavur.

Bommalattam or Puppet Show : Puppet shows are held in every village during festivals and fairs. There are always kinds of puppets used for this show made of cloth, wood, leather, etc. They are controlled by 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 Ved-puranas, history and folklore. These shows are very entertaining and hold both adults and childrens quite for many hours.

Kummi :
Kummi is one of the most important and ancient forms of village dances of Tamilnadu. It originated when there were no musical instruments, with the participants clapping their hands to keep time. This is performed by women; many varieties of Kummi, such as, Poonthatti Kummi, Deepa Kummi, Kulavai Kummi, Kadir Kummi, Mulaipari Kummi etc are known. The women stand in a circle and dance clapping their hands rhythamically. This dance is usually performed during temple festivals, Pongal, the harvest festival, family functions like the one to celebrate the coming of age (onset of puberty) of the girl-child etc. The first line of the song is sung by the leading lady, which the others repeat.

Kai Silambu Attam : This dance is performed in temples during Amman festivals or Navaratri festival. The dancers wear ankle-bells and hold anklets or silambu in their hands, which make noise when shaken. They perform various stepping styles jumps. The dance is in praise of all female deities, the most preferred being the powerful angry goddess - Kali or Durga.

Silambattam
: Kol silambam or fighting with a long stick and even with swords is a martial art from the days of Tamil Kings. Fights were characterised by moves of self defence, practise of skillful methods 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 the self defence in modern day world.

Chakkai Attam
: Teak woodenpieces size of 7 X 3/4 inch are held between the fingers which make the noise. Eight to ten dancers stand in a circle or parallel lines. The accompanying songs are generally about gods and goddesses.

Kazhai Kothu :
Kazhai Kothu is a performance of gymnastic specialised by Aryans. This is very similar to modern day circus. They travel in a group from place to place, entertaining the local people and thus earning a living.

Thappaattam :
Thappu is the name of a rhythamic beat instrument and Thappattam is practiced among the suppressed classes of the people of the Tamil Nadu. The subtle form of dance accompanied by captivating music, is an ancient rural folk art which is even now popular in urban slum areas in villages.

Bagavatha Nadanam
: This dance is performed inside a temple, around a lamp. The purpose is to worship Lord Krishna, and celebrate his frolics with the gopikas. This is performed during Ramanavami and Gokulashtami.

Theru Koothu :
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 also played by them. The performance consists of stoy-telling, dialogue-rendering, songs and dance, all performed by the artistes. Thus the ariste should have a very good performing ability, being an all-rounder. The stories are taken 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 nights. The performance is so captivating that the audience are spell-bound unaware of the longs hours. Theru Koothu is more popular in the northern districts of Tamilnadu. The Koothu can be categorised as Nattu Koothu, including Vali Koothu, Kuravai Koothu etc. Samaya Koothu dealing with religious topics, Pei Koothu including Thunangai Koothu and Porkala Koothu dealing with martial events.

Devaraattam :
Devarattam is a pure folk dance still preserved by the descendents of Veerapandiya Kattabomman dynasty at Kodangipatti of 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 Devarattam is a combination of ancient 'muntherkuruvai' and 'pintherkuruvai' of the ancient Tamil Kings. It was performed in front of and at the chariot on the victorious return of the King and his army from battle field. Sometimes even the king and his marshalls would dance on the chariot deck. The soldiers and female dancers would form in lines and dance behind the chariot.

Today, this dance does not have any songs but only danced to the beat of Urumi Melam, Thappu Melam and sometimes, a long flute. The dancers hold a kerchief in each hand and swing them as they dance. The person leading the dance wears false beard and a mask decorated with shells to look like teeth. He dances the first step, which others follow.

Oyilattam :
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. This dance is prevalent in the south districts and Kongu Nadu in particular. First a few people will stand in a row and start dancing with rhythmic steps with musical accompaniment. Intricate steps are used in martial arts, such as Silambattam. Then gradually the row will become longer as the new comers and guests all join and dance along as they like. The dancers wear ankle-bells. Normally, the dance is performed with the accomplishment of musical instruments and songs. It is performed near the temples or public places in the morning and evening hours, at times even till midnight. Styles of Oyilattam differ from place to place.

Snake Dance :
Yet another typical speciality 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-fighting costume designed like the snake-skin. The dancer simulates the movements of the snake, writhing and creeping, at times making quick biting movements with head and hands. The raised hands held together look like the hood of a snake.
Urummi Attam : The whirring sound of 'urumi' providing the melody and the beat of the Thappu providing the rhythm, accompany the dance sequence in this kind of temple art form. This is performed especially in Amman temples during the month of Adi. Nowadays, this art form is found only in selected villages in a few districts.

Ottan Koothu: Ottas, a small group of tribals, perform this form of ritual dance on festive occassions to depict episodes from epics and other ancient stories. The women folk also participate in the dance.

Kamandi or Kaman Pandigai
: This is celebrated to commemorate the puranic event when Manmada the God of Love was burnt to ashes by Siva in anger. The villagers separate themselves into two parties as Erintha katchi and Eriyatha katchi and a heated debate ensues. Kaman and Rathi, his consort, are main characters.

Puli Attam :
Puli Attam is performed by young men with painted bodies in colours yellow and black, complete with fangs, head gear with ears, paws with claws and long tail, simulating the prancing, ouncing tiger in every ferocious move. Wildly beating drums add frenzy to the performance. Puli Attam is performed by young men with painted bodies in colours yellow and black, complete with fangs, head gear with ears, paws with claws and long tail, simulating the prancing, ouncing tiger in every ferocious move. Wildly beating drums add frenzy to the performance.

Sometimes, a goat is tied and brought along with the dancers, who pretend to pounce on it and kill it. This dance is regularly performed during temple festivals, drawing large crowds.

Kali Attam
: Kali means joy or fun and games. This is also known as Koladi, Kolkali, Kambadi Kali and Kolaattam. Sticks one foot length are held in each hand and beaten to make a sharp, rasping sound as the dance proceeds with unique steps, twisting and turning. It is danced by both men and women, during festivals, auspicious days and weddings. The special qualities fo the dance are quickness, alertness, while being careful no to hurt the other dancers by the swinging 'kol'. Earlier, the 'kols' were brightly painted and decorated with brass rings, bells etc. The dancers used to wear ankle-bells. However, no special dress or make up was used for this dance.

Sevai Attam :
This form of art is devoted to 'Thirumal' (Maha Vishnu) and is performed by village folk belonging especially to Nataka community. In this dance the performers forming a group, with one of them acting the buffoon, dance to the music of percussion instrument like 'urumi'. The classical songs and the measured steps with graceful movements are the special features of Sevai Attam. In Sangam works this had been known as 'Pinther Kuruvai'. In those days this was performed at the rear of a chariot procession either of a king or a deity.

Villu Pattu :
The main singer here is accompanied by a chorus, musical instruments 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 relates a tale, interspersed with lively songs.
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