Karagattam or Karagam
From the rich, cultural history of Tamil Nadu, have emerged many spectacular folk dances that are both vibrant and skillful. These dances are mainly religious and ritualistic performances enacted in rural regions of the state. At times they are popularly performed in urban locales as well. Folk dances are also performed to enliven family occasions and in marriages, family reunions etc. Some of the famous traditional folk dances belonging to the state of Tamil Nadu include Bharatnatyam, Chakkai Attam, Devaraattam, Kolattam, Kummi, Oyilattam Paampu Atam, Theru Koothu etc. Folk dance form ,Karagattam or Karagam though less popular but nevertheless a colorful and exotic dance form enacted to praise certain Hindu deities.
Karagattam which is also known as Karagam is an ancient dance form containing rich history behind its origin. According to history, the dance was practiced by the villagers to appease the rain goddess Mari Amman and river goddess Gangai Amman. Karagattam dance is mentioned in the Sangam Literature which is a compilation of poems composed between 300BCE and 300CE, as ‘Kudakoothu’. The birthplace of this intricate dance is said to be Thanjavur though it is popular all over the state of Tamil Nadu and in southern India.
Music, Movement & Style
Karagattam dance is performed by both male and female dancers balancing vertically arranged pots on their head. This is the best feature of this dance —-just a position of balancing act and simultaneously executing intricate body and foot movement. The dance is a delicate balance of these subtle skills practiced by the dancers since an early age to master them. Karagattam is divided into two parts- ‘Atta Karagam’ and ‘Sakthi Karagam’. Atta Karagam is mainly performed in temples sympolizing joyous merrymaking. This dance is of devotional nature and it is performed with balancing colorful and ornate pots on the head. The latter, known as Sakthi Karagam is performed as part of rural entertainment. The dancers in the villages perform this dance in special occasions for pleasure and amusement. During the ancient times the dancers used to carry out Karagam dances for mulaipari ceremony, a popular South Indian festival praying the rain goddess for a better harvest season. In the festival, the women carry earthen pots filled with plants of nine different types of sprouted grains on their heads. The pots of Karagam have originated from this mulaipuri ceremony and at present time they have evolved to a more sturdy bronze or stainless steel pot which is delicately balanced by the performers coupled with body and arm movements and subtle steps. Acrobatic feats are also part of the dance as it involves performing on a rotating block of wood, moving up and down a ladder and at times the dance also includes threading a needle with a backward bending pose. Usually conducted by two dancers or by a single individual, in its movement and feats, Karagattam is much similar to a circus.
Number of musical instruments accompany Karagam dance such as –‘Thavil’, ‘Nadaswaram’, ‘Muni’, ‘Udukkai’, ‘Pambai’ to name a few. The vessels are also decorated with flower cones and a paper made parrot on top of it. As the dancers swing and move their bodies along, the paper parrot rotates. Karagattam dance is a brilliant example of visual masterpiece blended with beautiful craftsmanship preserved through centuries. In the beats of Thavil and Nagaswaram, the dancers move rhythmically and pose with colorful costumes and ornate pots displaying a gorgeous folk performance mesmerizing its audience.
Many artists have practiced and contributed to this beautiful, ancient performing art of Tamil Nadu. The dance is also quite popular in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where it is called Garagalu and Karaga respectively.