Tamil Nadu is home to many exotic, cultural dances that have been practiced over centuries. Some of these dances are more local than others and have a regional flavor in them. Dances are sometimes performed to honor the gods and goddesses and sometimes to celebrate the family occasions. Mayil Attam, Bharatnatyam, Kavadi Attam, Kummi, Bommalattam, Villu Paattu, Kai Silambu Attam, Kolattam, Kargam, Oyilattam, Devaraattam, Chakkai Attam, Theru Koothu are some of the most popular dance forms belonging to Southern India. Mayil Attam which literally translates to ‘Peacock dance’ ( ‘Mayil’ means peacock and ‘Attam’ means dance ) is an artistic and devotional form of dance enacted in the Hindu temples of South India especially in the state of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Mayil Attam dance is believed to have originated in the state of Tamil Nadu where women used to practice this dance to venerate Lord Subrahmanya, also known as Kartikeya or Murugan, son of Shiva and Parvati. Lord Subrahmanya is worshipped in Tamil Nadu since the Sangam age spanning from 3rd century BC to 4th century AD. The Lord is worshipped in many names in the southern state and according to legends, god Subrahmanya rides a peacock and uses his bow to lead the army in battle. The dance Mayil Attam features women dressed as peacocks while dancing to honor the great god Subrahmanya. The dance is usually executed by well trained professional dancers as it requires immense skill and competence to perform the peacock dance. This delightful art form is widely recognized and greatly enjoyed by everyone in the state.
Music, Movement & Style
The peacock dance is widely performed in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu during arattu festival when women carry out Mayil Attam in Hindu temples and holy places. Some of the venues where this charming folk dance is performed include Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Temple in Thrissur, Varkala temple in Kerala. In order to pay tribute to Lord Subrahmanya’s most sincere attendant, the peacock, the dancers dress as peacocks wearing peacock feathers and movable beaks that can be operated using a thread from within the costume. Wearing the glittering outfit, women Mayil Attam dancers execute the graceful dance moves by dancing on a piece of wood attached to their feet instead of dancing bare feet. Hence the dance demands great focus and skill to perform and could be a daunting task. As per its mythological origin, the dance literally represents the dance of peacock, the beloved ride of Lord Subrahmanya. The dance movement includes imitating a peacock’s movement and style. With careful planning and execution, the dancer shows how the bird cleans its feathers using both beak and legs. This follows by close steps moving at a slow rhythmic pace accompanied by the music. Each movement follows a circular pattern as the time and rhythm quickens. Finally, the order of circular pattern is broken when the music reaches at its peak.
Due to its complexity, the number of Mayil Attam professional dancers is steadily decreasing. Similar to other dances like Kaalai Attam where dancers dress as bull, Aali Attam where performers dress as a demon and Karadi Attam where they dress as a bear, the lovely, shiny attire of Mayil Attam dancers attract the spectators unlike any other performance. In fact, this costume is so vibrant with its large peacock feathers and beaks, the dancers resemble actual peacocks with their whole body covered in the shimmering peacock-like costume.
Urumi or the double-headed drum accompanies the peacock dance as one of the main sources of music.
Kumaranalloor Mani is one of the notable Mayil Attam dancers.