Saturday, May 2, 2009


Kaliyattam is an ancient socio-religious ceremony performed in North Kerala since very ancient times. In early times every village of North Kerala has its own common shrine called Kavu and it was imperative to have Kaliyattom performed in front of it. As the word Kali has also the meaning of "safety" in Malayalam, Kaliyattom may have the significance of a sacred dance for social or family safety. As Kerala was primarily a land of people with Sakthi (Bhagavathi) worshippers, the Kaliyattom became very much an essential part of the social structure. Kali worship made its stronghold especially in the northern parts of Kerala, known as the Kolathirinad, the ancient kingdom of Kolathiri (Chirakkal Raja). Therefore it was in Kolathunad (North Malabar ) at kaliyattom flourished more than in any other part of Kerala. In this way, a wide range of Kaliyattom nurtured and developed.
With the passage of time along with different aspects of Kali, various other Kolams of heroes and heroines were defined and special Kolams were attributed to them. Thus we find Sankaracharya as Pottan Daivam, Thacholi Othenan as Ponniatu Pataveeran, Katangot Makka as Makkapottu and the great commander of the Kolathiri militia as Vayanattukulavan. In short, in Kaliyattom, permanent forms and special attributed are given to Kolams and divine as well as hero worship is substantially and methodically carried out. Each manifestation in a Kaliyattom is known as Kolam. Kolam actually means "shape" or form. God, goddess, hero or heroine have their own peculiar and specific forms, and each form has its own particular representative aspects. To bring out that aspects each Kolam has special features in face painting which is a work of difficult craftsmanship and is a unique piece of art.

Some Kolams take eight to ten hours time to paint the face according to the strict rules of tradition. In the same way the crowns, head dress, breast plates, arm ornaments, bangles, garland and above all the woollen or cotton garments are all so elaborately furnished and variously shaped that the figure of a Kolam is something to see and wonder. It is said that the vivid and masterly ornamental dressing of Kathakali has originated from this. Kaliyattoms are generally conducted in places of worship called Kottams and Palliyara. Besides, there are compartments set apart in family houses where the family deities are worshipped. In such houses Kaliyattoms are performed in the courtyards just in front of the separate compartments. (Normally the season for Kaliyattom is from December to May.) There are various ceremonies conducted in a Kaliyattom, the most serious and important being the actual manifestation of the Kolam. Just before the Kolam a song describing the history of that particular Kolam and its great strength and holy aspect is sung by a set of people to the accompaniment of chenda and elthalam. After the songs are sung the Kolam appears before the assembly of the people, in front of the place of worship. It is believed that the spirit of the god or goddess or hero or heroine of the Kolam migrates into the person who has assumed that Kolam. Then the Kolam performs various types of dancing with chenda and elathalam as the chief accompaniments. In the actual dancing there are the slow - paced dances and fast moving ones. The former is called Pathiniyattom and the later Elakiyattom. Swords and shields, bows and arrows and other weapons are used. Sometimes sword play of a very high order is displayed. Kaliyattom is performed generally in the night and sometimes some of the Kolams will go on even after day - break. Clothe torches (Panthoms) and the coconut leaf torches (chootu) are used in plenty. The red light of the torches with sharp contrast of light and shade gives the entire scene a glamorous setting. The crowns and the articles of dress receive further additions of pictorial cuttings of white tender coconut leaves and bunches of red flowers. Kaliyattom is conducted for propitiating god and goddess to bless the family or community. There are particular communities for performing Kaliyattom. It is rather curious that Kaliyattom which is performed for all sections of people in Kerala from Brahmins downwards, the persons authorised to assume Kolams are from the untouchable classes, like Malayans, Peruvannans and Velas.

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