Many ancient folk dances have originated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu which plays a significant role in the history of culture and entertainment. As the state is home to many tribal communities like the Todas, the Kotas, the Badagas, the Irulas and the Kurumbas who resides mainly in the district of Nilgiris. Many other tribal existences can also be found in the state enriching the cultural diaspora of Tamil Nadu. These tribal people used to engage in various form of folk dances as part of their religious ceremonies or at times to take a leisure hour from work. Kummi dance is one such engaging folk dance performed by the villagers and tribal community of Tamil Nadu. The dance revolves around the daily lives of villagers.
The origin of Kummi dance is dated back to the prehistoric times when no traces of any musical instrument were found. The word ‘Kummi’ has derived from Telugu word ‘Kommai’ which literally means dancing with clapping of hands to time and singing poems. Since the dance has originated without accompaniment of any musical beats, the dancers clap their hands to keep time. Kummi is one of the most primeval folk dance forms practiced by the native villagers of Tamil Nadu. These native dwellers are essentially agriculture centric and thrive on occupations like farming, harvest etc. which is reflected in their dance performances.
Music, Movement & Style
Performed usually by the womenfolk, Kummi dance is enacted in circular movement. The dancers form a circle and clap their hands rhythmically to the music. The dancers move in a slow pace at times to mimic the reaping and harvesting of crops. The women hold each others’ hands moving and bending in a repetitive pattern. Their movements and steps perfectly synchronize along with a song sung by the leading singers of the group as the rest takes up the dance. The slow and vibrant rhythm of the dance is spectacular to watch. During the performance, each dancer sings a new line and they halt the dance when the dancers get tired. The facial expressions along with the gestures enacted by the performers are the special features of Kummi dance. Several forms of Kummi dance are popular among the natives of the state. One of the variations of this folk dance includes participation of male dancers who hold sticks in their hands forming a circle inside which the women performers gather in a smaller circle. The main characteristic of this type of Kummi dance is the harmony and balance between male performers striking the sticks and the females clapping their hands in unison to match the rhythm of the entire performance.
Different styles of Kummi are practiced among the Tamil Nadu tribal community such as Deepa Kummi, Mulaipari Kummi, Kadir Kummi, Kulavai Kummi, Poonthatti Kummi etc. Colorful and attractive costumes are part of Kummi folk dance though the dance does not have any specific dress code to follow.
Young girls and teenagers usually dress up in pavadai chattai and pavadai dhavani respectively where as older and adult women wear saris. Kummi songs are intrinsic part of the folk dance performance. The dance is carried out in temple festivals, during harvest season and is often a joyous addition to the ceremonies like in family functions, weddings, Pongal and Manjal Neeratu Vizhaan which is a ritual done when a girl reaches puberty. Apart from Tamil Nadu, Kummi is also a popular ceremonial dance performed in the state of Kerala. Tamils residing in Sri Lanka also practice this enchanting dance form of south India.
Many poets have encouraged Kummi dance including Subramania Bharathiyar, a famous Tamil poet and social reformer who wrote Kummi Pattu employing the folk dance Kummi.