Kerala’s rich culture has always amused the tourists and traders visiting the state. During the festivities, the art-lovers can explore a wide range of art and culture that unveil before the public. The temple festivals are particularly famous for the variety of dance forms performed in a colorful and attractive way while maintaining the traditional element intact. Kummattikkali or the Dance of the Ghosts is one such dance form which is more common in the northern Malabar area of Kerala.
The Costume and Dance
Kummattis are the Ghosts or the Bhoothaganas of Lord Siva as per the Hindu Mythology. The artists wear painted wooden masks and sprigs of leaves and grass to represent the Ghosts and dance to the rhythm of the local percussion and Onavillu or the bowstring instrument. It is a popular folk dance form in Wayanad and Thrissur.
Photo by ArunaR
One popular character in Kummattikkali is the Thallakkummatti or the old lady or the bitch who dons white hair. Many gods are represented by masks painted in different bright colors. They sometimes cover their entire body with grass and leaves. The best part of Kummattikkali is that there’s no formal training required. It is a harvest dance and usually, the crowd also joins the festivities and dance along with the main Kummattis.
Kummattikkali does not require any training to perform. The basic idea is to spread the joy of the season. The dancers could be anyone from the crowd too who enjoys the rhythm and celebrations. The performers wearing masks and grass attire dance according to the rhythm of percussion and onavillu. People of all castes and creeds participate in this folk art. Even though very small children may get scared to see the loud kummattis, youngsters and adults can enjoy the celebrations.
Characters Depicted in Kummattikkali
The main character in Kummattikkali dance is the Thallakkummatti or the old lady. She’s often accompanied by an old man. These two kummattis will be wearing the normal dresses of the characters along with the masks. Other Kummattis will be accompanying them such as Krishna, Narada, Hanuman, Bhoothaganas and other characters including the hunters as in Pulikali. All these characters wear masks depicting their roles and grass that cover their body.
Onam and Kummattikkali
Photo by ArunaR
Kummattikkali is a devotional dance form which depicts stories from Ramayana and other Hindu mythology. Kummattis can be seen visiting the houses during Onam time to entertain the people and also collect some cash and rewards in return. Since Mahabali was a demon king, Kummattis are believed to be his people and hence they visit during the Onam season.
In Thrissur, this is as popular as the Tiger dance or Pulikali which is also performed during the Onam festival. The dance form is believed to have formed around 150 years ago and gained popularity as a precursor to Mahabali’s visit. The Kummattis visit the households before Mahabali comes to visit them to check on their conditions. It is believed that Mahabali sends his helpers as Kummattis to check on his subjects.
Kummattis visit every household irrespective of the caste and creed to check on Mahabali’s subjects. This is a very popular ritual in Thrissur and Kummattikkali is even performed at the educational institutions and even at offices. This has become an inevitable part of Thrissur’s Onam celebrations just like Pulikali. The masks are quite expensive and are often made of jackwood, areca nut leaves, and stem. Kummatti grass or decorative grass are used for the dresses as they remain fresh for longer and give out a fresh smell. You can see the variety of masks used for Kummattikkali at the pre-Onam exhibitions held in Thrissur.
Featured Photo by ArunaR