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Onam dance – a vibrant colorful tradition
September 8, 2016, 10:07 am

The best of Kerala dances can be witnessed during the grand carnival of Onam. It is simply enthralling to note the richness of the folk culture of the state of Kerala. A display of so many unique and well perfected dances on a single platform pulls a number of dance lovers from all over the world to Kerala on Onam.

Some of the best known Kerala dances are performed on the occasion of Onam, the most remarkable of them all are Kathakali, Kaikottikali and Thumbi Thullal. If the unparalleled performance of Kathakali artistes leaves the audience awestruck, the very elegant Kaikottikali has the power to enchant. Grace and simplicity are the hallmarks of Kerala dances and also their inherent characteristics.

The other enchanting folk dances performed on the occasion of Onam include Kumattikali and Pulikali or Kaduvakali. These are colorful and well-orchestrated, as well as hugely entertaining.

Kummattikali - The Mask Dance

During the festival of Onam, Kummattikali performers move from house to house collecting small gifts and entertaining people. A most interesting facet of Kummattikali is a peculiar way in which Kummati performers clad themselves. They don a heavily painted colorful wooden mask depicting faces of Krishna, Narada, Kiratha, Darika or hunters.

Rhythm for the dance movements is provided by vibrating the string of a bow like instrument called onavillu. Arecanut wood is used to make the bow and the strings are beaten with a narrow bamboo stick. Kummatti dancers are a sight to watch and onlookers, especially children take great delight in their performance.

Themes of Kummattikali are mostly taken from the stories of Ramayana, Darika Vadham, the story of Shiva and folk tales like Manjan Nayare Pattu.

Pulikali / Kaduvakali

This is a colorful recreational folk art that is performed by trained artists to entertain people on the occasion of Onam. Pulikali, also known as Kaduvaakali, is a 200 year old art, carefully preserved by the artists of the state. Literal meaning of Pulikali is the 'play of the tigers' hence the performance revolves around the theme of tiger hunting. The folk art is mainly practiced in Thrissur (Trichur) and Palghat districts of Kerala.  Children, specifically take great delight in their performance as the entertainers dance, pounce and walk like a tiger. Scenes of tiger hunting goats and tiger being hunted by human beings are also beautifully depicted by them. Beat for the dance movement is provided by percussion instruments like 'udukku' and 'thakil'.


The carnival witnesses the performance of unique and unparalleled Kathakali dance-drama, which can also be described as a visual art because the performers are silent. They use the language of hand-gestures, body movements and facial expressions as means of communication. Rigorously trained, performers bring to life mythological tales with ease. Instrumentalists and vocalists also play a significant role in the drama.

Communication is made effective through the remarkable use of gestures and mudras. This also lends Kathakali its universal appeal. Another distinct feature of Kathakali is its elaborate costume and make-up.

To appreciate this highly evolved Indian classical dance, audience also need to have a basic understanding like background, origin of Kathakali apart from knowledge of legends and mythology. 

Thumbi Thullal

This is a fascinating all women dance and singing event performed in Kerala on the occasion of Onam. While men engage themselves in energetic sports, womenfolk perform Thumbi Thullal and have their share of fun.

Wearing their best sarees, stunning jewelry and fragrant gajras, a group of women sit in the formation of circle. In the center of the circle sits the main performer. The lead singer initiates a song by singing the first couplet which is then taken up by other women. The sequence continues song after song with the lead singer initiating the couplet every time followed by a chorus from other women.


An extremely popular folk dance performed by the maidens of Kerala, Kaikottikali is regarded as an extremely elegant dance form as the Lasya or the beauty element predominates.

The Kaikottikali dance is believed to be developed out of the classical Kathakali dance of Kerala. It involves a dance ground and in its center a ceremonial brass light known as the Nilavilakku is placed over a traditional flower decoration called the Pookalam. Around this center, the women and young girls arrange themselves in concentric circles and start to dance in a circular motion to the beat of their clapping and meter of their singing. There are no musical instruments that accompany and give music to Kaikottikali dance.

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