Kanyarkali: Palakkad’s dance form with a mix of martial arts and comedy


By Meghna Nair

Kanyarkali, also known as Desathukali, is an ancient Indian folk dance which is famous only in the Palakkad district of Kerala, India.

It is performed either in the premises of the temples of a female deity or on the “Tharasu” (areas for informal gatherings) of the houses in the villages.

Talking to NewsGram, Kunjiraman Nair, an artiste and a resident of Palakkad said,“It is a religious offering and also a prayer for the prosperity of the villages. It is more than just a folk dance.”

A vibrant and colourful folk dance, Kanyarkali was conceptualized during the time when Palakkad was under the constant threat of attack from the neighbouring district of Konganaadu. This was also when people had started pursuing martial arts. Thus, Kanyarkali is not simply a dance, it also incorporates elements of martial arts. Dance, comedy, and martial art skills are combined beautifully to add colour and vigour to this folk dance form.

This dance form is performed only by men, and women characters are represented through cross-dressing. The characters of this dance form come from the sections which were previously considered to be the lowest section of the society.

“Whenever they (the servant class) had a problem, they would go to their lord and narrate their problems and seek assistance. We depict this in a comical way in Kanyarkali,” Mohanan Pillai, another resident of Palakkad, told NewsGram.

The fast-paced steps are attuned to the various percussion instruments such as Chenda, Maddalam, Edathalam, and Chengala.

Kanyarkali is performed over a period of four consecutive nights in a kali-pandhal which is a circular tent supported by 56 poles and is extensively decorated with flowers and garlands, especially the flowers of the Gulmohar tree. It is preceded by four days of Edakkali and one day of Pandhalurakkam or rest. Then, the Arangu Kali or the stage performance starts.

The performances of each night carry a different name; namely –  Ponnankali, Valloan, Aandikoothu and Malamakali, respectively. The four days of festivities are concluded by Thottamchollal or singing of lyrical praises of the goddess and Poovaral ceremony.

With no literature available regarding the dance form, the knowledge of Kanyarkali is transferred from one generation to another verbally. Therefore, there is a likelihood that this art form might gradually sink into extinction.