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The Kanyarkali (also known as Desathukali) are fast moving, militant dances attuned to rhythmic devotional folk songs and asuravadyas. They are said to originate from the pursuit of martial arts when the region was under threat of attack from nearby Konganadu. Kannyarkali arose when dance and comedy were added to the martial training sessions. The dances may be performed in the ritualistic Vattakkali style, or the more relaxed Porattu style.
Though performed by Nairs, Kanyarkali depicts the life of the Malayalams, one-time slaves and dependents of the feudal chieftains and jenmies of the Malabar area in Kerala. The accompanying folk songs also throw some light on the ancient feudal relationships. Musical instruments like chenda, maddalam, elathalam and chengala are used. The costumes are very colorful.
A number of participants of these Kannyar Kali have exhibited this art form as part of the contingents of Kerala art forms in the Republic Day parade folk festival presentations in Delhi on January 26 of each year. There is strict regimen of kanniar kali folk art which are handed down for generations and learned by the young boys and men from elderly proponents called Asaans.All the learnings are handed down by practise only and no written records are kept of these contents and practise of art forms. There is gradual erosion of this rich art form as older generations wither away with out fully handing over all the lessons of this art form. If no attempts are made to capture these art forms in writing, there is every likelihood that this art form may die out in due course.
Kanyar Kali festivals are mostly seen in these places of Palakkad District - MANJALUR ,Pallassena, Pallavur, Kakkayur, Kattusseri [Alathur], Kunissey Vadavannur, Tathamangalam, Kozhalmannam, Pudiyankam, Nemmara, Chittlancherry, Cheramangalam, Ayalur, Athipotta, Vattekkad, Melarcode, Kannanore and Puthucode.
Though this festival is essentially that of the Nair community, there is contribution and participation from all other communities in these celebrations.
The traditional dances start on the auspicious day of Vishu, the first day of the month of Medam according to the Malayalam calendar. The dances last for four days and are preceded by three days of Karivela and Vattakali. The programme for each day is known by a different name; the first day’s Kanyarkali being called Erawakkali and the next three day’s items being known as Aandikootu, Vallon and Malama respectively. There are more than forty 'steps' or puratts for the four-day program.
The celebrations last for a fortnight, the final three days are the full night celebrations which consist of pooja, vela, caparisoned elephant accompanied processions and fire works and a number of staged dramatic events in which the life of various communities in the villages are depicted. These dramatic presentations are enlivened by rustic humour some times embellished with sexual innuendos. The local men both young and old all participate in these celebrations. The women are mostly kept out of these activities except as devotees engaged in worship or as spectators of these dramatic presentations.
Velichchappad or the Oracle
Velichchapad or oracle is an important entity in these celebrations and it is not unusual for the velichchappad to express the happiness or otherwise of the gods with the villagers. When the vellichchappad expresses his unhappiness or anger with the villagers for their lack of worship activities, additional poojas are conducted on the advise of the oracles pronunciations. It is presumed that the Bhagavathy or the Goddess enters the bodies of the vellichchappad and the pronouncements are those of the Bhagavathy and great reverence is given to fulfill the "kalpana" or the desires of the Bhagavathy.