Padayani, also called Padeni (from the Malayalam word for military formations), is a traditional folk dance and a ritual art from the central portion of the Indian state of Kerala. A ceremonial dance involving masks, it is an ancient ritual performed in Bhagavati temples. The dance is performed in honor of Bhadrakaali. Meaning, a 'row of warriors', Padayani is an art form that blends music, dance, theatre, satire, facial masks, and paintings. It is part of worship of Bhadrakali and is staged in temples dedicated to the goddess from mid-December to mid-May. Padayani is unique to central Travancore, comprising the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. Padayani is regarded as a remnant of the Dravidian forms of worship that existed before the advent of Brahmanism.
Traditions of origin
Padyani is a modern form of Kolam Thullal, a ritual dance, which had been performed by the magico-medicine men of Kerala ( The Tinta endogamous section of Ganaka community ) . In olden days, this elaborate and expensive event was carried out to heal illnesses of deep psychological dysfunctions without any identifiable serious physical cause, and cases that seemed to be not amenable to medical modalities of intervention . This form of psychic or spiritual healing other wise known as Kolam Thullal, was solely designed, controlled and performed by the Tinta sub sect of the Ganaka community, as a method of exorcism The folk art, Padayani made its development from this dance performance, as a divine ritual tradition in association with festival occasions of Bhagavathy (Bhadrakaali) temples of Kerala.
Another version of its origin is related to the practice of ancient martial arts training in Kerala. Ever since the period of the Samgham age, the Ganaka people were regarded by the society, as traditional preceptors (Sanskrit: Acharya) of martial arts and letters . Since the origin of term padayani relates to military parade or rows of army, it is generally believed that it is evolved from a symbolic past reminiscent of the fencing march of the martial art (Kalari)  by the Nair trainees (fighters) and their Preceptors -Kalari Asans (Kaniyar Panicker) to frighten the enemy troop and to show their might. Eventually the responsibilities of various functions related to this dance were divided and assigned among people of different communities. So the Nair folk became the performers of the modern form of Padayani art, but the right of writing lyrics, the design and making of elaborate costumes was vested with the local Kaniyar people. Nowadays the modern form of Padayani is performed at many Devi temples in the southern region of Kerala, particularly in Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Alappuzha and Kollam Districts
Design and performance
Padayani is very popular in Kerala, India, as a means, used to worship goddess Kali. The story line comes as after killing Daruka, an Asura, the goddess was very angry. The bhoothagana, servants of lord Siva, danced in front of her to reduce her anger, else her anger would result in the destruction of the whole world. In memory of this incident, the participants wear masks (kolam) made of lathes of the areca tree using one to hundreds. The colours used to make the kolam are purely natural. They are made of the green of the lath itself (kamukin pacha), kari (carbon), manjalpodi, sindooram, etc.
A major attraction of padayani is the song associated with it. Traditionally only a single type of instrument is used to associate the song, thappu. The songs are in simple Malayalam and have been handed down from the ancestors over the years.
The art form starts with heating the musical instrument, thappu (Thappu Choodakkal). The instrument is faced towards the fire and the instrument tuned. After that, the art form starts. Various types of dances have different names such as madan, marutha, yakshi, pakshi, kalan kolam and bhairavi kolam.
Marutha is the little ones and they are like a drama. They are dancing to make fun along with the songs. The kolam is performed by men as well as children.
Kalan Kolam is the major attraction in padayani. This is about a child who is begging for his life with lord Siva, while death comes on his 16th birthday. At that time Kalan, the god of death, comes and he is trying to take the life of Markandaya, the boy.
Bhairavi kolam is the dance to worship the goddess. It is the biggest kolam and uses many laths of the areca tree. The kolam is headed by more than one person due to its heavy weight.
After the kolam thullal is over, there will be ritual called Pooppada which is the end of the padayani festival. After that, the days of colours will be over and the colourful memories will be in the minds.
The waiting for the next padayani starts then...with a prayer for the wellness of all world....
In 2007, plans were put forward to implement a proposal by poet Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan to create a Padayani Village to promote the dance form. As of 2009, the first such village is expected to be built in the poet's hometown of Kadammanitta at a cost of Rs. 1.9 crore. A chief exponent of Padayani is Prof. Kadammanitta Vasudevan Pillai. His association and acquaintance with Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan has led to many literary contributions. His Literary work "Padayaniyude Paalakolangal" and "Padayani" is an authoritative work on Kerala Folklore with special reference to Padayani.
"Elanthoor Padayani" is being performed along with 8 days long Padeni maholtsavam at Elanthoor Bhagavathikunnu Devi Temple during February–March month of every year (Malayalam month of 'kumbam')(starts on makayiram naal). 8th day from makayiram naal is the grand padeni or Valya Padeni. Large crowd on valya padeni's Procession is a main attraction follows kaappoli program. Main kolams are Ganapathi, Pishaachu, Sivakolam, Marutha, Koottamarutha, Rudra Marutha, Naayattu, Kuthira, Pakshi, Sundara Yekshi, Anthara Yekshi, Maya Yekshi, Arakki Yekshi, Erinaaga Yekshi, Maadan, Karinkkaali, Kaalankolam, Nina Bhairavi, Bhairavi, Kaanjiramaala and Mangala Bhairavi. Other performances include Velakali, Thaavadi, Pulavrittham, Pooppada and various types of Vinodhams such as Kaakkarashi Drama, Paradeshi, Sharkarakudam, Ammumma, Pattarum Pennum, Ooraali, Pulayan, Naadukaani, etc.
"Kottangal Padayani" is being performed along with the 8 (Ettu padayani) days from a total of 28 days during January - February(Makara Bharani). This is performed every year at Kottangal Devi Temple located in the boundary of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta Districts. The last 8 days are important with the performance of different Kolams and other traditional programs. The padayani is done by two Karas(Areas which contains different sub areas) Kottangal and Kulathoor. The Last 8 days are equally divided to two karas that is 4 for each. The last two days(valiya Padayani) are most important for both Karas and they conduct programs in a competitive manner. Beautiful Processions will be there on the evening of last two days. The main programs include vela Kali,Adavi, Pallippana, Vellam Kudi, vinodam and kolam Thullal. The kolams performed in the padayani are Ganapathi Kolam, Kuthira, Bhairavi, Sundara Yakshi, Araki Yakshi, Marutha, Pakshi, Kalamadan and Kalan Kolam.
"Kadammanitta Padayani" The festival is celebrated every year from the first day of Malayalam month medam to the 10th day, called the pathamudayam. . Medam 8th is popular for Grand padayani (Vellya Padeni)when all "kolams" under padayani will be performed by experts, and large number of people interested, from all over the country as well as a few foreigners who are regular visitors every year will come to see the magnificent performances, apart from many prominent cultural and social leaders.
Padayani is being performed as an offering to Goddess Kali (Devi) and often portrays the story of Goddess winning victory over Daarikan, an evil character. This ritual festival is famous in Kadammanitta village in Pathanamthitta district.
The main aspect of the festival of Kadammanitta Padayani is the aspect of devotion to God and is a mark of homage paid to Goddess Bhagavathy, who is symbolized as a Mother Goddess. The festival which is marked by worship of the all powerful Mother Goddess is an exhibition of passionate devotion to the Goddess who is worshipped as a Mother figure throughout the province of Kerala. A festival which is celebrated for ten days throughout this tropical paradise is a massive display of color and the elegance which stems naturally from a culture dating back to several years in antiquity. The festival is also marked by the performance of the Patayani, a popular dance form which is an intrinsic part of the celebrations of Kadammanitta Padayani. Traditionally performed on the eight day of the festival, the Patayani indicates an offering to Goddess Kali, in whose honor, the festival is celebrated. The festival is also auspicious as it marks the victory of Kali over Daariken, an evil character and the renewal of protection of the Goddess on human beings.
At Kadammanitta Devi Kshethram- First two days are the ceremonial rituals (9.pm-30mts) to start the Padayani. The presence of Goddess is evoked to the Padayani performing ground by folk songs and drumming Thappu. From third day onwards Padayani Kolam like Ganapathi, Marutha, Pakshi, Kalan, Sundara Yekshi,Bhairavi, Kanjiramala etc. are staged. (11 pm-4am). On the sixth day (19 Apr) night is Adavi, a ritual where a Palmyra tree is brought and mounts it on the ground, after some rituals the tree is then pushed down. On 21 April is Valiya padayani, the most important day of the festival. During the full night performance (12 nt to 6am), about 15 variety Kolams are staged including Maya yakshi, Anthara yakshi, Arakki yakshi, Kurathi kolam, Shiva kolam, Kanjhiramala and Mangala Bhairavi. There is no performance on ninth day. The concluding day performance is in the morning (11am-12.20pm). Apart from Folk songs, a type of folk dance called Pulavrutham and Thavadi is also performed. A grand procession is the conducted (4.30pm- 6.30pm) through the streets of the village with Jeevatha, accompanied by Velakali, kavadi, Melam, Panchavadyam etc. Simlar procession (Vilakku ezhunnallippu) is conducted in the temple compound during night (11.30pm to 2 hrs) with Thalappoli etc.
"Kurampala Padayani" is being performed once in five years. Adavi (human Sacrifice Festival) is a main ritual of Kurampala.
"Kallooppara Padayani" is being performed at Kallooppara Devi Temple in Kallooppara village, 8 kilometers from Thiruvalla, located between Thiruvala and Mallappally. It is held in the month of February–March(Kumbha maasam) as part of the Kumbhabharani Festival. Here, Padayani is celebrated in Revathy and Aswathy of Kumbha Masam. Several artists perform this art as a worship to the Goddess,Bhadrakali. The main Kolams performed are Yakshi, Pakshi, Marutha,Bhairavi and Kalan Kolam. Along with these, Vinodam also being performed.
Padayani is conducted in the Kadalimangalam Devi Temple, in Kuttoor village near Thiruvalla every year during the months of March and April. The ten-day-long festival is conducted by the people of two local karas, namely Eruvellipara and Venpala. The rare and great Padayani Kolam, namely 'KALAYAKSHI', is performed here. It is the right of two families, namely Mukkanjirathu and Pullenplavil of the two karas, to perform this 'KALAYAKSHI KOLAM'.
"Kunnamthanam padayani" being performed at Kunnamthanam, a village near Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta along with Pathamudaya Maholsavam at Madathilkavu Bhagavathi Temple.[clarification needed] It is being said that the padayani season in a year starts with Vrishchikam (November–December) at thelliyoorkavu and ends in month of Medam (March–April) at Kunnamthanam Madathilkavu temple. Gothrakalapeedom is an organization dedicated to providing training and promoting projects involving Padayani, a folk art form of Kerala. It is located at Kunnamthanam, a nature-rich village in Pathanamthitta district. It was formed in 2004 aiming to bring back Padayani, a long lost ritual of the village temple “Madathilkavu Devi Kshetram”. The ‘arangetram’ of the first batch trained by Tharanamuriyil Vasudevan Pillai asan was in the year 2005 Gothrakalapeedom was successful in its efforts and became well established, extending the activities to make Padayani renowned across the world, to assist research works on the history of Padayani and to implement welfare programmes for Padayani artistes. Active participation of the local people in its efforts contribute to the success of the organization. It also focuses on the promotion of age-old temple rituals of Kerala like the Kalamezhuth and Mudiyettu. These ritual art forms, unlike many other art forms of Kerala receive the whole-hearted involvement of the local people, which makes them stand apart. The artists of Gothrakalapeedom have performed at various temples and platforms for cultural collaborations across Kerala. The Kunnamthanam Padayani is one among the earliest Padayanis of Central Travancore. The ritual is observed in association with the Madathilkavu Bhagavathy Temple. The Padayani was presented for 8 days from Medam 3 to Medam10. The real architects of the Kunnamthanam Padayani , the Sage like Kanppettil Narayanakurup Asan, Allimangalathu Krishna Pilla Asan, Kamukumcheril Kunjunni Kurup Asan, were its real torch bearers. The Padayani discontinued from 1952 was ritualised again in 2005. The Kunnamthanam Padayani owes its birth to the Gothrakalapeedom, a renowned training group for rituals and folklore. Tharanamuryil T.K. Vasudevan Pilla Asan was instrumental in recreating the Kunnamthanam Padayani by keeping intact its old rites.
Five Ganapathykolams in the guise of Pisachu dancing in the Kalam (ground), the imagery of the sky bound Ambarayakshy descending in a chariot as Chattathelyakshy, and the Devathakolam, resembling the Madthilkkavil Bhagavathy are exclusive features of the Kunnamthanam Padayani .
The Padayani is observed annually on Medam 7 (April 20). Madathilkkavu Bhagavathy Temple, situated in the western part of Pathanamthitta District, is accessible from Thiruvalla (12 km) and Changanacherry (11 km).
A very destructive war between the devas (gods) and the asuras (anti-gods) left only two women, Danavathi and Darumathi, with the asura class. Left to themselves they practiced tapasya (devotion penance) to please Brahma the creator. By his blessings each begot a son, Danava and Darika. When Darika came of age Darumathi narrated to him the sad tale of the defeat and destruction of their class by the devas. She exhorted him to do penance to please Brahma and obtain powers with which he should retrieve the lost glory of their class. Darika performed arduous apasya, which Brahma could not ignore, and he blessed him with such powers as may shield him from harm by man or god night and day. Brahma bestowed him with the mighty rod of Brahma, a weapon of great destructive potential. But an arrogant turn by the asura enraged Brahma who added to his devotee’s luck death by a divine damsel. Darika with the help of the supernal architect Maya built a splendid palace on the shores of the western sea and proclaimed protection and honor to all the surviving members of his class scattered and hiding. With their help he reconstituted the asura army, fought with Indra the chief of gods, and defeated him. Darika didn't stop with this. He took intermittent military excursions into the territories of the devas and became a perpetual menace to them. The gods in distress petitioned to Vishnu the great god of preservation who directed them to Shiva who told them that only a goddess of extraordinary prowess could slay Darika.Thus Brahma created Brahmi, Vishnu created Vaishnavi and Shiva Maheswari, Indra Indrani, Subrahmanya Kumari, and Yama Varahi. Their combined effort could not, however, vanquish Darika. Then fate in the form of Narada, the celestial monk, came in Darika’s way.
The haughty asura reproached the saint and threatened to kill him. The distressed Narada went to Kailasa and complained to Shiva about the demonic behaviour. The infuriated Shiva created Bhadrakali out of his third eye and assigned to her the task of destroying the asura. In the battle that followed Bhadrakali killed Darika’s minister. Provoked, Darika decided to confront Kali, but before going to the battlefield he transferred all the powerful mantras (hymns of invocation) to his wife. Darika used the rod of brahma forcing Kali to retreat. Goddess Kartyayani, an ally of Kali, who knew that Darika was no more the sole owner of the mantras of his success, tricked the asura’s wife disguising herself as an innocent Brahmin girl. With all the powerful mantras of the opponent now with her, Kali fought with Darika and on the twenty-second day she captured the rod of Brahma, cut her opponent's head and slaked her thirst with his blood. Kali’s fury raged even after the war ended. Her army of goddesses and phantoms, terrified at the unusual anger of their leader, fled the field and sought refuge in Shiva.Shiva proposed several modes of entertainment to cool her down. Dance, music, comic dialogues and mime were tried but all in vain. But when Lord Subrahmanya drew her furious form on the ground, and then acted her out with gorgeous accoutrement and rhythmic movement, Kali was amused and pleased. This, in brief, is the story behind Padayani.
Mythical narratives of this sort that form background to art forms like Padayani are also ground for the founding of certain ethics. During succeeding stages of social change meanings were attached ‘figures’ – acted out with the help of accoutrement and designs drawn on the floor. The ‘figures’(Kolam in Malayalam) became signifiers with signifieds lying in the religious system that was developing along side the social system. Padayani, as it is known today, has, apart from its artistic function, the function of relieving the social group of ‘spirits’ that malign body and soul. Each Kolam has a purpose and a meaning, its function is not individual but social.
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