Padayani, also called Padeni, is a traditional folk dance and a ritual art from the central portion of the South Indian state of Kerala. A ceremonial dance involving masks, it is an ancient ritual performed in Bhagavati temples. 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 like Theyyam in north kerala. The percussion instruments used in Patayani are patayani thappu, chenda, para and kumbham. Padayani is very popular in Kerala, India, as a means, used to worship goddess Kali. 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. Bhairavi kolam is the dance to worship goddess. It is the biggest kolam and uses many laths of areca tree.
Kuthiyottam is in fact a ritualistic symbolic representation of human ‘bali’( homicide). Folklore exponents see this art form, with enchanting well structured choreography and songs, as one among the rare Adi Dravida folklore traditions still preserved and practiced in Central Kerala in accordance to the true tradition and environment. Typical to the Adi Dravida folk dances and songs, the movements and formations of dancers (clad in white thorthu and banyan) choreographed in Kuthiyottam are quick, peaks at a particular point and ends abruptly. A few exponents also cite similarities for Kuthiyottam in Padayani, another popular folklore of Central Travancore. Similarly, the traditional songs also start in a stylish slow pace, then gain momentum and ends abruptly.
Kuthiyotta Kalaris’, run by Kuthiyotta Asans (Teachers or leaders), train the group to perform the dances and songs. Normally, the training starts about one to two months before the season.
The songs are mainly in four rhythms, popularly known as ‘Padams’, and it is compulsory to sing all the four Padams every day. The songs elaborate on the great deeds of Bhagavathi, how she killed Asuras like Sumbani Sumbas, Darika etc., and aims to please her by singing her virtues. There are also Sanskrit mixed songs based on the popular legends from Puranas. Some old songs, rich with lyrical quality, show the creative talents of Chettikulangara’s forefathers. The festival goes on for seven days from Sivarathri day to Bharani asterism. During this duration, the man who makes the offering teaches young boys of between 8 and 14 years certain religious rites.
Early in the morning on Bharani, after the feast and other rituals, the boy’s body is coiled with silver wires, one end of which is tied around his neck, and an areca nut fixed on the tip of a knife held high over his head. He is taken in procession to the temple with the accompaniment of beating of drums, music, ornamental umbrellas etc. Tender coconut water is poured on his body,till they reach the temple. At the end of it, the boy stands at a position facing the Sreekovil (Sanctum Sanctorum) and begins to dance. The ceremony comes to an end with the presentation of prizes to the Gurus (teachers). This dance if performed in pairs is called Iratta Kuthiyottam.
On this day, just after mid-day, the residents of the locality bring out the floats with huge decorated effigies of chariots, horses, Bhima, Panchali, Hanuman etc. During the night, the image of Devi is carried in procession to the effigies stationed in the paddy field. This is what is known as Kettukazhcha. On the next day these effigies are taken back to their respective Kavus (place of worship of different families).