Tamilnadu is home to a rich tradition of arts. ‘Iyal, Isai, Nadagam’ (Dance, Music and Theatre) flourished in the ages of kings, especially during the ‘Sanga Kalam’ nurtured by the Pandya dynasty. One such admirable art form that originated in the villages of Tamilnadu is Karakattam. Karakattam is a celebrated art form of Tamilnadu that is performed in praise of the Tamil rain Goddess Mariamman (In Tamil, Mari – Rain, Amman – Goddess). The main challenge and the beauty of this art form is the act of balancing water pots on the performers’ head while he/she is dancing.
The art originated in the districts of Pudukkottai and Thanjavur and later became famous in Ramanathapuram, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Pattukottai and Salem in Tamilnadu.
In Karakattam, the intricate steps and arm movements during the dance, rate the skill of the performer. Earlier it was performed only with the accompaniment of the Naiyandi Melam (double headed hour glass shaped drum played with sticks) but now it also includes songs. Drums and long pipes are the musical instruments that add vigor to the dance when used as accompaniment. This energetic art form is performed individually or in pairs by both the genders.
Dancing on a rolling block of wood up and down a ladder and threading a needle while bending backwards are some of the important steps that are widely performed. Balancing the Karakam on their heads while standing on the rim of a plate containing water and ensuring that the water doesn’t spill is one of the toughest steps for the performer.
Today, the pots they balance on their heads have been transformed from mud pots to bronze or stainless steel ones. These pots are decorated in an attractive way and are topped with a moving paper parrot. The parrot rotates as the dancer swings and gives a very beautiful look. When men perform this dance, they balance pots containing uncooked rice surrounded by a tall conical bamboo frames decorated with colorful flowers.
Karakattam can be classified into two types – Aata Karakattam and Shakthi Karakattam. Aata Karakattam is the dance performed with decorated mud pots balanced on the head and symbolizes joy and happiness. It is performed mainly for entertainment (In Tamil, Aatam – dancing with joy). Shakthi Karakattam is performed at temples and symbolizes the devotion of the people to Shakthi (Tamil Goddess – Amman).
Tamilnadu’s Tourism Department organizes Karakattam performances during the festival of Pongal every year in the districts of Pudukkottai and Thanjavur. Last year it attracted a lot of tourists from Germany and France. Annie, Shimone and Sarah were three German students who excitedly tried their hand on performing the art form by wearing saris (traditional attire of women in Tamilnadu) and imitating the movements of the professional Karakattam dancers.
Tamilnadu Government conducted the ‘Chennai Sangamam’ in capital metro city, Chennai, for the past 3 years with the aim of showcasing a collaboration of rare rural art forms in Tamilnadu and spreading their greatness. ‘Karakattam’ took a significant role in all the years and performers danced for over 10 songs.
A movie titled ‘Karakattakaran’ starring actors Ramarajan, Kanaka and Goundarmani was released in 1989 and it showed the greatness of Karakattam.
There are so many art forms in Tamilnadu that we need to know and encourage. Let us take this section as an opportunity to know more about them. Kudos to all the artists who keep these rare art forms alive and rocking in Tamilnadu!