Thiruvathirakali is perfomed famously for Onam celebrations in the state of Kerala, India. However, there is also a festival among some Keralites in December/January, the fifth month of the Malayalee calendar, Dhanu, called Thiruvathira.
I did not know about the Thiruvathira festival until I did a bit of research on this dance. I became interested in this dance as I wanted to find some way to actively participate in the yearly Onam function through our local Malayalee association for the past few years, and this dance seemed easy enough for me to try.
So, this year ten of us ladies practiced from July until early September to create this graceful Thiruvathira dance, which is also known as Kaikottakali. To me, growing up in U.S., this dance seemed very much like the western square dancing, having a partner, and moving around the group in various poses to come back to the part of the square (or in this case, circle) that you started. It also reminded me very much of a dance I did while in college when I participated in the Japanese student’s club cultural function. There, we did a circle dance in Kimonos and due to the tightness of the dress, had to move around in small, graceful steps. In this dance, it is manditory to wear a ‘set mundu’, a two piece Kerala sari. This sari is a bit more challenging to move elegantly in than the more familiar one piece saris and also slowing down into small, but graceful steps seems very difficult for many who live a fast paced lifestyle, I suppose.
So, doing the dance itself became the meditation for me. I loved to practice with the group and get the feeling of elation afterwords that “We did it!”. I also enjoyed practicing on my own to the music and without the music in a meditative state. It helped me relax from the stress of the working day.
Though Thiruvathira can be performed by any religion in Kerala, I think it is more associated with Hindus. The [Syrian] Christians also have their own version of this dance, Margam Kali, that is performed with music having different words and beats. The dress is also very different for the two dances. Though they may seem similar from a distance, a close look at them, you will notice many differences. It is these differences that fascinate me so much.
Maybe I will get to learn about it more closely if I have the opportunity to participate in a margam kali dance. From this site, I learned about the Syrian Christian Dress Code in Kerala, India, and from youtube, was able to see a nice perfomance of Margam Kali. Since I am new to these dances, if you have some feedback on it, do share it with me, by e-mailing me.
I hope you enjoy seeing videos of our group dancing, just click on the photos in this article to see the videos.
Related Posts: Onam Ashamsakal – An American’s Journey to Understanding Onam
We shall meet in the next posting. Enjoy your time until then.
Author Jennifer Kumar, is an American and currently as of February 2011, lives in Kochi India. Kochi is in the state of Kerala where Thiruvathira is performed. Follow her on Facebook.