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 ) . Earlier 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 . In the form of psychic or spiritual healing, it was solely designed, controlled and performed by them( The Tinta sect of Ganaka community ), as a method of exorcism This folk art has become a divine ritual tradition in association with festival occasions of Bhagavathy (Bhadrakaali) temples of Kerala.
Another version of it's 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 in Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Kottayam districts of Kerala, the Nair folk became the performers of the modern form of Padayani art, but the writing of lyrics and the design and making of costumes vested with Kaniyar people.
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.
"Kadammanitta Padayani" is being performed along with the 10 days long Pathamudaya Maholsavam at Kadammanitta Devi Temple during March - April ( from 1-10 of medam month in Malayalam Calendar) of every year. 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.
"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 Davi 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.
"Kunnamthanam padayani" being performed at Kunnamthanam, a village near Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta along with Pathamudaya Maholsavam at Madathilkavu Bhagavathi Temple . 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.
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