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Kummattikkali in Kerala

A popular mask dance generally performed in the northern districts of Kerala, Kummattikkali is one of the prominent ritual arts of Kerala, India. This art form features dancers wearing painted wooden masks and sporting sprigs of leaves and grass, and they go dancing from house to house.

Each group of dancers comprises about eight to ten members, and each member wears a distinct and unusual Kummatti costume. The most popular character in Kummatikkali dance is the 'Thalla' or witch - the dancer who leads the group in dance, music and enactment. The 'Thalla' wears a mask of a very old woman, with hair fashioned in ancient style. Most of the other characters in Kummattikkali represent various Hindu gods and goddesses and these are enacted by children donning spectacular masks.

The songs sung during the Kummattikkali dance are usually based on devotional themes and are accompanied by a bow instrument named 'Onavillu'. This is a string instrument made by shaping the pith of the palmyra stem in the form of a bow, with bamboo slivers being used as bowstrings.

As soon as the Kummatti dancers enter the courtyard of a house, the 'Thalla' character holds a baton in hand and breaks into song and dance. This ritual dance does not require any special training or setting, and in fact, even onlookers can join the performance.

The ancient folk art of Kummattikkali is very popular in Palakkad and Trichur Districts of Kerala. In Palakkad, it is performed as a ritualistic ceremony to appease the mother goddess - 'Devi', while in Trichur, the form is entirely secular, used as a means of entertainment during the Onam festival. There are certain differences between the styles of performance, costumes and songs in the Kummattikkali dances in these two districts.

In Ottapalam Taluk of Palakkadt District, Kummattikkali indicates the beginning of the Makaram Harvest festival that takes place in January.