Velakali, a martial dance of Kerala

  • Spectacular would best describe the scene of an assembly of men wearing the traditional warrior’s head gear in fiery red, brandishing swords and shields and advancing with stylised movements to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals.
  • The music and the moves point to a battle scenario. However, this is no battlefield, but the temple courtyard, and the men are no warriors, but artistes trained in Velakali, a martial dance of Kerala.
  • Velakali was performed recently at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, in connection with the annual Painkuni festival that falls in March-April. For most residents of Thiruvananthapuram, childhood memories would be vivid with colours of this festival; particularly that of the huge effigies of the five Pandavas that are put up before the eastern gate of the temple and of the beats of Velakali. And war is what it represents – between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, characterised by the troupe of 101 Velakali artistes.
  • Symbolically, it glorifies the victory of righteousness over wrong, when the Kauravas run away, beating a retreat with the ‘vela ottam’.

Tracing the origins

  • The stylised, martial dance of Velakali, which blends movements and postures of Kathakali and Kalaripayattu, originated in Ambalappuzha
  • The origin of Velakali can be traced to the Ambalappuzha Chempakasseri kingdom, the Mathoor Panickers and Velloor Kurups, hereditary commanders-in-chief.
  • Both the families of the chieftains had kalaris that trained warriors for the army.
  • Almost all art forms of India trace their beginnings to the divine and with legends woven around it.
  • Perhaps this is because the Indian cultural ethos sees art as a dedication and as a means to an end, which is the divine.
  • Ambalappuzha Velakali, as it came to be known, was thus, first and foremost, an offering presented before Lord Krishna, the presiding deity of Ambalappuzha.
  • It is a fact that the Chempakasseri Kings and the Mathoor Panickers were genuine patrons of art and literature.
  • It was their fine sensibilities that made artistes out of warriors.
  • The typical red head gear with the konda, shara mundu tied at the waist, golden, beaded neck piece, the mock churika and paricha (dagger and shield) held in the right hand and left hand respectively, mark the typical attire of performers of Velakali.
  • The movement and stances, the chuvadus and kalashams, have shades of Kalaripayattu and Kathakali. Apparently, and not surprisingly, the relationship is symbiotic.
  • Kampadavu kali and Parichamuttu kali too are old art forms of Kerala that are martial in nature.
  • Thang Ta of Manipur, the Pari-Khanda, Chhau and so on are examples of similar vibrant dance forms seen in other parts of India. To seek to be creative and artistic is an inner call that is embedded in the human psyche.

Source: The Hindu


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