Kerala is popularly known as God’s own country. This state is not only blessed with natural beauty, but it is also rich in art, culture and traditions. The abundance of natural beauty, variety of wildlife, rich history, deep traditions and exotic culture makes Kerala an ideal holiday destination.
Kerala has managed to keep its thousands of year’s old art and dance forms alive. One can see multiple art forms, dance forms and ancient theatre, practiced in Kerala to this day. Kummattikali is one such traditional dance form of Kerala. It is also known as the ‘Mask dance’.
This dance is mainly prevalent in the Thrissur district, Wayanad district, Palakkad district and some portions of Southern Malabar. This performance can be easily seen during the Onam festival, in Thrissur, where the Kummattikali dancers go from house to house entertaining people, and collect small amounts of cash and food items like rice and jaggery in exchange. There are more than 60 Kummattikali teams, who perform in Thrissur during Onam. These performances are thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, especially the children who are found taking great delight in their performances. The original form of Kummattikali can be seen at the Bhadrakali temple in Palakkad district.
The performers wear wooden masks and sport garbs made from grass and dry leaves. It is a ritualistic dance and has its roots in Indian mythology. These heavily painted, colourful masks depict the faces of Lord Krishna, Darika, Kiratha, Kali, Narada, Ganapathi, Hanuman or hunter’s faces. These masks are usually made out of the wood from the Jackfruit tree, Coral tree, Hog Plum tree, Saprophyte or Alstonia scholaris. The outfits are made from a special grass called ‘Kummatti Pullu’, which is known to have medicinal properties.
There is an instrument called the ‘Onavillu’, comprising of bow and strings, which is made from Arecanut wood. This instrument provides the music for the dance. The strings are beaten with a narrow bamboo stick. Since it is an ancient theatrical art/ dance form, themes of the Kummattikali performance are borrowed from Indian mythology. The performers enact to the stories of Ramayana, Darika Vadham, the story of Shiva and the folk tales of Manjan Nayare Pattu.
Legend of Kummattikali
The annual visit of the legendary Lord Mahabali to Kerala is celebrated as a ten day festival called Onam. Legend has it that Lord Shiva of Sree Vadakkunnatha Temple, asked his bhoothas to perform a dance to honour Mahabali on his annual visit to Kerala. A particular day is assigned for each region to stage the art form.
Best time to watch Kummattikali
If one wants to catch this performance, it is best to visit Thrissur during Onam, as the Kummattikali dances are rampant there during that time. Onam is the state festival of Kerala and is celebrated for ten days, between August and September.