|Folk dances originated in villages, but are enjoyed by everyone. Among the various dances performed by Tamilians is Kummi – an ancient folk dance which reflects the day-to-day life of villagers of Tamil Nadu. Kummi is a simple dance performed by women, who form a circle and clap their hands to songs of their choice.
There are different forms of Kummi. Some of the styles are Deepa Kummi, Kadir Kummi, Poonthatti Kummi, Kulavai Kummi, and Mulaipari Kummi.
Kummi is one of the most ancient forms of village dances. As it originated during a period when there were no musical instruments, the women clap their hands to keep time in the dance.
The term Kummi is derived from the Tamil word “Kommai,” which means “to dance while clapping your hands.” This is a form of dance in which the women dance in groups, singing songs to the Kummi dance.
The dancers stand in a circle and clap their hands according to the rhythm of the dance. They move in a circle with their hands making gestures representing agricultural activities. One of the women leads the singing team while the rest of the group takes up the chorus. Each person renders a new line in turn and they stop dancing when they all get tired.
Men also participate in some of the local variations of Kummi dance. In this type of dance, the men hold small sticks in their hands and form a circle, enclosing the women’s circle inside. The men beat their sticks together in synchronization with the hand clapping of the women and the dance steps, creating a beautiful experience of song, dance, and rhythm.
There is no particular costume for Kummi dance. The young girls wear pavadai chattai, the teenagers wear pavadai dhavani, and the adult women wear saris. The dance steps are simple and repetitive: the women stand in a circle, hold hands, move forward, bend down and clap their hands. Even young children can learn this dance in about two months and can dance on their own without requiring any assistance.
Some children say that it is difficult to learn the songs by heart, as the Tamil words used in these songs are not commonly used. As facial expressions also play an important role in Kummi dance, it is necessary to understand the words to the songs before dancing.
There were no Kummi dance classes in olden days. The girls used to learn the dance from their mothers, grandmothers, or aunts. Even girls of 8 to 10 years of age become fascinated with the steps and songs, as well as with the stories depicted through dance.
Mangalakshmi, a 82-year-old woman, used to teach Kummi Attam to the group of young children at the Mohanam Cultural Centre. Radha, another older women, also teaches classes. The classes are held once in a week at this institute.
Anitha Kuppusamy is a singer famous for her Tamil folk songs. She is also very popular for singing Kummi songs.
Kummi dance is popularly performed during festival seasons such as Pongal, the harvest festival. It is also performed during family functions such as marriages, childbirths, and Manjal Neeratu Vizhaa – a celebration done when a young girl attains puberty. The women express their happiness through songs and dance. The song is initiated by the senior person and repeated by the rest.
Kummi dance has been encouraged by a number of poets, including Subramania Bharathiyar, who has written Kummi Paatu.
The art of Kummi dance has faced setbacks for a few years. Women of earlier days used to dance with grace. Unfortunately, as they grew older, they were not invited to dance in any functions and their children did not show interest in the old form of folk dance. However, in recent days the younger generation has developed a renewed interest in the dying tradition. Students are also gaining interest in pursuing research in folk arts which still exist only in rural areas.
Kummi dance is popular not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in its neighboring state of Kerala.
Two institutions teaching Kummi dance are Nupur Folk Dance Academy and Mohanam Cultural Centre in Sanjeevi Nagar, a village near Auroville, the universal city located near Puducherry.