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Kummattikali, the Kerala folk dance
by Juhan Samuel

          Thrissur: Kummattikali, a folk dance of Kerala, is performed by dancers clad in colourful outfits made of grass and leaves. The themes are taken from the Hindu epic Ramayana, based on the life of Lord Rama. The dance is also a harbinger of communal harmony, as the artists cutting across all religions and castes to perform Kummattikali. Mervin Jose, a Christian artist, said: "In Thrissur, the Kummattikali is given much importance than any other part. As for myself, being a Christian I feel great and happy to perform because of its secular aspect and this is the second time for me." Artistes dress up in leaves or grass (Kumatti or, parppadaka reeds) and wear painted wooden masks representing Gods and Goddesses like Rama, Sita, Hanumana and even demons from the epic Ramayana. Some performers cover their whole body with bunches of grass for a more bushy appearance and onlookers, especially children, take great delight watching the performance. Dr. K. Muralidharan, Convenor of Kummattikali show, said: "The 150 years old traditional art form initially used the masks made of arecanut palm leaves and other agricultural products. But after 1941, wood material has been used to prepare the masks mainly of demons, old lady and Hanuman." He said: "These masks are very expensive, costing around rupees two lakh. The cost is borne by villagers of all communities, irrespective of caste and creed." These masks are usually made out of single wood usually of trees of jack fruit and hog plum. They are prepared months before the actual show. Rhythm for the dance movements is created by vamping the string of a bow like instrument named Onavillu. Reeds of arecanut palm are used to make the bow and the strings are played with a narrow bamboo stick. Kummattikali performers earlier used to move from one village to another during Onam. The villagers -- as a gesture of thanks for entertaining them -- used to gift them with jaggery, rice and even money. Today, it has become a major pomp and show for the villagers and performers mainly in the Thrissur District in Kerala.
- August 31, 2007

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