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Folk Dances of India

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Folk Dances of Tamil Nadu


Karagam is a most popular folk dance form that is accompanied by the music. The villagers in praise of the rain goddess "Mari Amman" and river goddess "Gangai Amman perform this dance as a part of their custom .In this dance, balancing of water pot on the head is done beautifully. It is believed that Karagam is originated in Thanjavur, a village in Tamilnadu. In Sangam literature, it is termed as `Kudakoothu`.

Traditionally, this dance is performed in two types - one, `Aatta Karagam` and the other `Sakthi Karagam`. Aatta Karagam is danced with decorated pots on the head and symbolizes joy and happiness. While the `Sakthi Karagam` is performed only in temples and is mainly danced for entertainmening purpose. Earlier it was performed only with accompaniment of the Naiyandi Melam, but now it includes songs also.

Karagam dance feature is how a dancer balancing a pot of on head and dancing with more intricate steps and body/arm movements decides the skill of performer. Today, the pots have transformed from mud pots to bronze ware and even stainless steel to have more decency in looking and better handling. The pots are decorated in many ways with the help of attractive flower arrangements, topped by a moving paper parrot. The parrot rotates as the dancer takes swings along these looks beautiful.

Most expert artistes are from Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Madurai, Tirunelveli, and Pattukottai and Salem regions. This dance can be performed individually or in pair. Both male and female performers can participate in this exciting dance. Some of the steps that are widely used are many times similar to circus such as dancing on a rolling block of wood, up and down a ladder, threading a needle while bending backwards and many more.

Men sometimes perform it also, wherein they balance pots filled with uncooked rice, surrounded by a tall conical bamboo frame decorated with colourful flowers. Drums and long pipes form the musical instruments adding vigor to the dance.

Kolaattam is an ancient village folk art, famous in all parts of state. Kol means a small stick, and Attam means play so, a play or dance performed with sticks` can be its simplest meaning. This is mentioned in Kanchipuram as `Cheivaikiyar Kolattam`, which proves its antiquity. Only women participants can perform this dance, holding two sticks in each hand, beaten to bring a rhythmic background. Pinnal Kolaattam is also a form of this dance where ropes are used instead of sticks.

One end of these ropes is held in women`s hand while the other is tied to a tall pole. In a course of action, with planned steps, the women skip over each other, which forms intricate lace-like patterns in the ropes. As various colourful ropes are used, this picture is very eye-catchy. Again, they unweave the lace by reversing the dance steps. The group coordination of women participants is rewardable. This is performed for ten days, starting with the Amavasi or Newmoon night after Deepavali.

A festival connected with Kolaattam has both a cultural and a religious significance. A legend behind celebration of this festival is- once there lived an Asura called Basavasura who could not be controlled by anybody. Some girls forming a group went to this Asura and played Kolaattam with charming music. And it is believed that the Asura was so pleased with the divine music and grace of the girls that he gave up all his evil actions. From this time, it is celebrated as Kolatta Jothrai in a number of places in Tamil Nadu State. Kolaattam offers a great variety of entertainment not only to spectators but also to the participants.

Kavadi Aattam:
The ancient Tamils while visiting to any pilgrimage or any such holy place used to carry the offerings to the gods. This is tied to the either end of the long stick usually made up of bamboo that is balanced on their shoulders. This was created to lessen the boredom of the long travels because as a part of Kavadi Aattam, they used to sing and dance. Kavadi Aattam has its origin in this context. Even special songs were created to sung while carrying the Kavadi Sindhu. Only men perform this dance, as they only hold the Kavadi. Sometimes it is done by balancing a pole with pots fixed on either end of stick, filled with milk or coconut water.

Generally, the material used for preparing the poles are Purasai or Teakwood. At topside of Kavadi, bamboo strips are bent like a half-moon, covered with saffron cloth and further decorated on the sides with peacock feathers. This is mainly a religious dance, performed in worship of Tamil Lord "Muruga". Muruga is the second son of Shiva. Pambai and Naiyandi Melam accompany the dance.

Bhagavatha Mela:
Bhagavatha Mela is popular throughout the Tamil Nadu State. It is considered to be originated from a village Melatur in Thanjavur district of Tamil Naidu. The term Bhagavatha Mela signifies the troupes, which perform the stories of the Bhagavatha, i.e. the myths about the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, from the famous Bhagavath Purana.

It is performed as a part of the annual festival of Narsimha Jayanthi in the month of May-June. A large flat canopy and a small stage are put up in the streets in front of the temple and the dramas are performed on it. This is done to dedicate the deity installed in the front hall of the temple.

Bhagavatha Mela is a form of dance-drama. It is graceful with, mellifluous vocal and instrumental music to add colour in its overall performance. It also contains dialogues of high diction and suggestive strained abhinaya and other symbolical, descriptive action as some of its hallmarks. Whenever there is a violent scene of war and killing comes in drama, they are not enacted but are only narrated as an incident. The Bhagavatha Mela is full of dramatic interest that is enhanced by using classical music and dance. It drama can be characterized by several steps, such as:

Firstly, the performance starts with the appearance of the Konangi or buffoon. Konangi dances for a few minutes and make request to the audience to see the fourth coming play patiently.

The play is followed by a group of musicians they sing the Todaya-mangalam, which is an invocation song. After invocation song an introduction of the drama that is to be enacted is told in short.

A performer in the dress of Lord Ganesh then appears in front of audience to bless the play. A young boy wearing the mask of Ganesh dances to the accompaniment of background music to give the feel of Lord Ganesha. The arrival of the Lord Ganapati sets the stage for an auspicious start to the performance.

Each actor or character is then introduced. After this elaborate introduction, the actual drama begins. The drama contains mainly dialogues of Prahlad, Hiranakashapu (father of Prahlad) & Narsimha. The story places its own demands on the actor portraying Narsimha. The actor prays and fasts before donning the mask of the god, and at the close of the performance, all the performers (Bhagavatars or Bhagavatulus) circumambulate the deity within the temple. The musicians follow them, singing devotional songs. Next to be honored, with flowers and sandal paste, are the teachers of this dance-drama.

This festival is celebrated to signify the victory of Prahlad over his evil father, the king Hiranyakashipu through the intervention of Vishnu in his man-lion avatar (incarnation). The drama is characterized by natural, flowing movements that enhance the body- language used to convey the main theme. The actors are always male.

Kuravanji is performed throughout Tamil Nadu State. It is said that like the Bhagavatha Mela, this dance form is also crossed over from Andhra Pradesh. The word Kura refers to the tribe `Kuruvas` or `Chenchus`, who were and are the nomadic hunters of Andhra Pradesh. Their women folk are reputed fortune-tellers. Anji is derived from adavus, which means their traditional dances. The form is also referred to as kuram and kuluva natakam. However, it is believed that this art is originated in seventeenth century has an identity of all its own. Lord Vighneswara (Ganapati, the elephant-headed god) is the presiding deity for the performance.

The theme of Kuravanji is illustrated as the play goes on. After the salutary procession, the kattiakaran summarizes the story, which in fact is a variation on the one theme that runs through all performances. The whole action unfolds with a young woman, languishing for her loved one while her maids tease her. She implores about her feeling to maids, and then the moon, the birds, the clouds and the winds to carry her message forth but they decline. Then she receives the help of a gypsy woman to whom she presents a detailed account of her distant homeland, and offers to read her palm. She reads the young woman`s mind, and after initial denials the heroine accepts the truth of the gypsy`s skills and her predictions. A hunter (Kuruva) enters in search of his wife, the gypsy. They reconcile and leave together.

This framework of dance performance provided an ideal medium for projection of geography lessons, and was utilized skillfully for the same purpose by Maharaja Serfoji II (1798- 1833). In addition to the gypsy women, singers, instrumental musicians and dancing girls add to the art.

Kuravanji is a type of dance-drama distinctive to the Tamils. As performed for an entertaining objective, its emphasis is balanced between the classical & traditional. There are hundreds of Kuravanjis performed allover in State. The earliest patron of this was King Rajaraja Chola. He constructed a big platform at Thanjavur for holding Kuravanji performances during the annual festival, Kuravanji Medai.

In its actual terms, the Kuravanjis were regularly performed in temples and the artistes kept themselves ready for performance. But passing of the legislation that prohibits dancing of devadasis in temples, the practice of performing Kuravanjis was also declined.

There are many types of Kuravanji that are performed, some are: Compositions like the `Thirukkutrala Kuravanji` are famous for their fluent poetic importance. The Viralimalai Kuravanji is recognised for its musical value. In the Azhagar Kuravanji and the Thirumalai Andavar Kuravanji a wonderful balanced is maintained between music and literature.

In Sendil Kuravanji, a dance-drama centering round the theme of the presiding deity of Tiruchendur, the heroine Madana Mohini appears on the scene. Spending her time in the delightful company of her friends, she sees Lord Arumuga coming in procession and falls in love with him.

Nondi Natakam:
The word Nondi means one who limps and Natakam means play. Thus, a play performed by an one-legged man keeping one leg folded at the back is Nondi Natakam. This form is originated during the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century in Tamil Nadu State itself.

The play is a descriptive & developed around the two themes- of devotion and forgiveness, as experienced by an one-legged thief. As a course of dance, he narrates his tale of travails as a thief in love with an unethical courtesan, and the final redemption through devotion to God and the healing of his physical afflictions. This drama is also known as ottraikkaal in some part of Tamil Naidu.

Pavai Koothu:
Pavai Koothu is considered as a form of early year`s puppet shows. Some called it as a glove puppet theatre of the sixteenth century. Pavai means `woman`, koothu means `play`. An appropriate name as all the stories concern with the feelings of Vali, one of Lord Shiva`s attendants, for Subramanya, one of Shiva`s sons.

The papier-mache puppets are used for this performance. These puppets are generally one foot tall in height and wear paper or coconut -fiber garlands. A single person to work as manipulator is required to monitor the show. His thumb and little finger move the puppet`s arms, the middle finger works for the head. The language of the show is predominantly Tamil, and the songs are predominantly folk in nature. The idakka drum and cymbals are used for music of the performance.

Kai Silambu Aattam Dance:
Kai Silambu Aattam dance is performed in temples during the time of Amman festivals or Navaratri festival. It is primarily for praising Goddess.The dancers wear ankle-bells and hold anklets or Silambu in their hands, which make noise when, get shake. From this ornament the dance is termed as Kai Silambu Aattam. They perform various stepping styles and jumps in course of Dance. The dance is in praise of all the female deities, the most preferred being the powerful angry goddess also known as Shakti -Kali or Durga.


Bommalattam or Puppet shows are the most favourite dance form in Kerala also but originated in Tamil Nadu. This dance is held in every village during the time of festivals and fairs. There are various kinds of puppets used for this show, made up of cloth, wood, leather, etc. A skilled performer with the help of strings or wires controls them. This person stand behind a screen and the puppets are held in front. The stories that are enacted in the puppet shows are from Ved-puranas, history and folklore. These shows are very entertaining and hold both adults and children quite for long time.

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