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kaniyarkali (കണ്യാര്‍കളി*) is a festival usually celebrated in March or April in many of the Kurumba Bhagavathy temples or Tharas (local meeting places) in the Palakkad district of Kerala, India.

The Dance[edit]

The Kanyarkali (also known as Desathukali) are fast-moving, militant dances attuned to rhythmic devotional folk songs and asuravadyas.[1] They are said to originate from the pursuit of martial arts when the region was under threat of attack from nearby Konganadu. Kannyarkali arose when dance and comedy were added to the martial training sessions.[2] The dances may be performed in either the ritualistic Vattakkali style or the more relaxed Porattu style.

Though performed by Ezhava and Nairs, Kanyarkali depicts the life of the Malayalams, who were one-time slaves and dependants of the feudal chieftains and jenmies of the Malabar area in Kerala. The accompanying folk songs also throw some light on the ancient feudal relationships. Musical instruments like chenda, maddalam, elathalam, and chengala are used in these dances, and the costumes are very colourful.

Kanyarkali or Kanyaarkali is a performance that incorporates the essence of dance, drama, music, song, and martial skills. This is performed at Bhagavathy temples in the Alathur and Chittur Thaluks of Palakkad district. This art form is always performed by men at temples. Women are sometimes represented by cross-dressing men who imitate the body language and way of speaking of women.

The Kanyarkali performances are conducted on four consecutive nights preceded by four days of Edakali and one day of pandhal urakkam before the arangu kalikal starts. Arangu kalikal are named for each day: Ponnaanakali, Valuvan or Valloan, Aandikoothu, and Malamakali. The four days of kali are concluded with a Thottam chollal in the praise of the Bhagavathy followed by Vattakkali at the arangu pandhal, deshavaazhi pandhal, and naadu vaazhi pandhal and concluded with a Poovaaral ceremony.

Kannyar Kali participants exhibit this art form for the Kerala groups in the Republic Day parade folk festival presentations in Delhi on January 26 of each year. There is a strict regimen of kanniar kali folk art which are handed down for generations and learned by the young boys and men from elderly proponents called Asaans. All the learning is handed down by practice only and no written records are kept of these contents and practice of art forms. There is gradual erosion of this rich art form as older generations wither away without fully handing over all the lessons of this art form. If no attempts are made to capture these art forms in writing, there is every likelihood that this art form may die out in due course.[citation needed]


Kanyar Kali festivals are largely in locations throughout Palakkad District—in Manjalur, Pallassena, Pallavur, Mudappallur, Kakkayur, Kattusseri (Alathur), Kunissery Vadavannur, Tathamangalam, Kozhalmannam, Pudiyankam, Nemmara, Chittlancherry, Cheramangalam, Ayalur, Thiruvazhiyad, Athipotta, Vattekkad, Melarcode, Manjalur Kannanore, Koduvayur Kuthanur. Tattamangalam and Puthucode.


Even though this festival is essentially that of the Nair mannadiyar and Tharakan community, there are contributions and participation from all other communities in these celebrations.

The traditional dances start on the auspicious day of Vishu, the first day of the month of Medam according to the Malayalam calendar. The dances last for four days and are preceded by three days of Karivela and Vattakali. The programme for each day is known by a different name: the first day’s program is called Erawakkali, the next is Aandikootu, the third is called Vallon, and the last day is Malama. There are more than forty "steps" or puratts for the four-day program.

The celebrations last for two weeks, and the final three days are the full night celebrations which consist of pooja, vela, caparisoned elephant accompanied processions, fireworks, and a number of staged dramatic events in which the life of various communities in the villages are depicted. These dramatic presentations are enlivened by rustic humour some times embellished with sexual innuendos. The local men of all ages participate in these celebrations. The women are mostly kept out of these activities except as devotees engaged in worship or as spectators of these dramatic presentations.

Velichchappad or the Oracle[edit]

Velichchappad, or oracle, is an important entity in these celebrations, and it is not unusual for the velichchappad to express the emotions of the gods with the villagers. When the velichchappad expresses his unhappiness or anger with the villagers for their lack of worship activities, additional poojas are conducted on the advice of the oracle's pronunciations. It is assumed that the Bhagavathy or the Goddess enters the bodies of the velichchappad, the pronouncements are those of the Bhagavathy, and, accordingly, great reverence is given to fulfill the "kalpana" (the desires of the Bhagavathy).


External links[edit]