Kerala Famous Arts and Martial


Velakali, a dance evolve from the martial culture, is performed in some temples as a spectacle during festivals in which the whole village participates. This dance originated in Ambalapuzha which gained importance in the16th century AD as a coastal principality ruled by a Brahmin Raja having the family name 'Devanarayana'.

Most of these Rajas were great patrons of art and learning. One Devanarayana who lived in the18th century had encouraged many poets and artists in his royal court. During the 17-18th centuries, the coastal principality of Ambalpuzha had commercial contacts with the Portuguese and Dutch. Several wars were fought in the sea with these powers by the raja and his predecessors. Velakali was conceived as a reminiscence of these armed conflicts, a re-enactment of those wars waged in the sea and land. The dance form assumed the shape of an earlier art called Naikkan Tullal.

Velakali is basically a group dance held in the open air as an exhibition of the martial feats in front of the raja of Ambalapuzha, who wanted to see how his soldiers had waged the battles. This show meant to be witnessed by the deity of the temple which is taken out in procession to the courtyard of the temple on a caparisoned elephant. The play consist of a procession in the beginning in which, the dancers walk in line through the village road holding the sword made of rattan in the right-hand and a shield in the left. They move elegantly keeping their pace to the rhythm followed by a hilarious group of villagers encouraging the dancers by jumping and singing and waving small colourful flags. By dusk 'Kulathil vela' or the play on the bank of the tank commences. The dancers take their position on the bank of the temple tank and with weapons in their hands start the play moving their bodies. Their movements get reflected in the water probably reminding one of the war in the sea or lakes. On the other side of the tank the caparisoned elephant with the deity takes position. The dancers do not change their position but exhibit only the swaying of their bodies to the rhythm of Velappara, the main percussion instrument. Then the dancers disperse to assemble again in the southern quadrangle of the temple to start the regular exhibition of the feats. There the deity appears on the elephant. By about 8.p.m 'Tirumunpil vela' or the play before the divine presence of the deity, start. All the numbers in the repertoire of Velakali, consisting of solo, dual and group performances of the Payattu (fight) are shown in detail.

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