Devarattam which literally translates to the ‘dance of gods’ is an alluring folk dance performed by Kambalathu Nayakar community residing in Tuticorin and Virudhunagar regions of Tamil Nadu. According to popular belief, the Kambalathu Nayakar community members are the successors of heavenly gods or ‘devas’. Hence they perform the Devarattam dance during festivals and special occasions which are celebrated in the state of Tamil Nadu. Many folk dances have emerged in the southern state including Bharathanatyam, Oyilattam, Kokkali Kattai Attam, Kamandi or Kaman Pandigai, Chakkai Attam, Kaniyan Koothu and Devarattam to name some of the mesmerizing folk dances that belong to this cultural hub of Southern India. The ancient dance of Devarattam has a rich history and has been protected till today by royal descendants of the state.
Tamil Nadu was once home to many rich and regal dynasties whose successors still carry the ancient traditions and cultures beautifully preserved through many fleeting generations. Veerapandiya Kattabomman was once such valorous entity and the founding father of Kattabomman dynasty. He refused to surrender to then ruling British Raj. The regal leader’s dynasty was situated in Kodangipatti region of Madurai district. It is said that Devarattam dance is performed by the female dancers to appease the kings of Kattabomman dynasties and has become a mainstream dance form gradually. According to the researchers, the dance is a blend of ancient ‘ muntherkuruvai’ and ‘pintherkuruvai’ belonging to the Tamil kings of ancient time. The dancers used to perform Devarattam in front and at the chariot of the kings returning from the battle after victory to honor their glorious conquest. At times even the king and his troupe participated in the dance with them to celebrate the triumphant victory. Female performers and fighters used to form lines behind the chariot in order to perform this spectacular dance. However the dance form has significantly evolved through the ages and the present form of Devarattam imitates the lives of farmers and common man residing in Madurai.
Music, Movement & Style
The new generation Devarattam dance does not have elaborate songs though music still continues to play a major part in the show. ‘Urmi’ which is a drum-like double-headed percussion instrument is one of the main sources of music used in Devarattam. The dance which is truly believed as a ‘rendition to God’, has thirty-two rhythmic steps known as ‘adavu’. On the beat of ‘Deva Thunthubi’ the dance is performed. Legend has it that Lord Shiva’s ardent devotee Nandi once overexerted his own expertise in the drum or ‘melam.’ Seeing this, Shiva created deva thunthubi which, only when played by Lord Shiva can welcome the heavenly dancers Rathi, Tilothamma to perform the dance. Hence use of thunthubi plays an integral part in the performance.
The dance is enacted in two parts. For one, the performers begin the dance by worshipping the musical instrument and the music player. Then the dancers perform Devarattam dance with fluid movement and fast steps. The captivating performances of the ancient courtyards are reflected in the rhythmic flow and style of Devarattam dancers who enact the performance with equal dexterity and craftsmanship. The dance accompanies in many religious and cultural occasions like festivals and marriages adding a flavor of entertainment. The dancers wear colorful costumes and hold handkerchiefs in each hand while performing the dance. They move gracefully in the beat of Urmi Melam, Thappu Melam and the occasional use of elongated flutes. Performed by both male and female performers, Devarattam dance is a stunning artistry of Kattambomman dynasty still prevailing its undeniable charm and purity, mesmerizing the state of Tamil Nadu from time immemorial.