Poikal Kudirai Attam
Folk art and culture has been an age old tradition prevalent in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu. Through centuries these ancient performing art forms have been preserved by dancers and enthusiasts alike who continue to mesmerize the spectators by its elegant craftsmanship. Poikal Kudirai Attam or Dummy Horse Dance is one such ancient folk art form which is also popularly known as Puravai Attam in South India. The folk dance is a typical folk performance executed with colorful costume and a dummy horse tied around the waist. Hence it is also called the Dummy Horse Dance.
The state of Tamil Nadu is home of great Indian folk performances and Poikal Kudirai Attam is not an exception. In fact this dance holds a prominent position among all the folk dances that have originated in the state since the dance form is accepted all over the country and the it is popular by other names in different regions. The dance is known as ‘Theelu Gurram’ in Andhra Pradesh, ‘Kuthikali’ in Kerala and ‘Kachikoti’ in Rajasthan. Poikal Kudirai Attam is a brilliant example of the rich cultural heritage of Southern India.
Traces of historical evidences suggest that Poikal Kudirai art form is about 2000years old. The dance has been mentioned in epic Tolkappiyam which is considered one of the earliest recorded Tamil literatures in history dated between 3rd century BCE and 3rd century CE. Traces of Poikal Kudirai dance form have been found in epic Silappatikaram or ‘The Tail of an Anklet’ which is one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature. The epic Silappatikaram has recorded that the dance has been performed by one of its main protagonists Madhavi, a charming courtesan dancer. Hence the dance form proves its antiquity. Some believe the dance was brought to Tamil Nadu during the Maratha reign.
Mythological stories illustrate the dance’s origin by relating it to Goddess Durga who, according to myth, has enacted Poikal Kudirai dance to annihilate her enemies who could transform themselves to venomous snakes and scorpions to poison her to death. Goddess Durga performed this dance while attaching wooden pieces around her leg to protect herself and this made her steps heavier as she managed to squash her enemies with her heavy legs. Hence the other name for this dance form ‘Marakkaladal’ have derived from this mythical story referring this dance as ‘dance with wooden legs’.
Music, Movement & Style
Performed by both men and women dancers, Poikal Kudirai dance uses a bright-hued and gorgeously embellished dummy horse made of jute, cardboard box, glass etc. and ties it around the performer’s waist. The well decorated horse has hollow spaces and holes for the dancer to fit inside the costume. The dancer’s legs go inside the empty space designed as the horse’s legs and it seems like the performer is sitting on the horse. The dancer’s shoes are made out of wood to match the hovering sound of a horse movement. Much importance is given to this well-planned horse outfit to give a spectacular dance show. Intricate steps and skilled acrobatics play a major role in Poikal Kudirai Attam dance.
Drums are used extensively as source of music. These are called Thavil, Pambai, Sinukuchatti in Kongu Nadu region of the state of Tamil Nadu. Musical instruments such as Naiyandi Melam and Urumi, a double-headed drum with a V-shaped pattern are also used in folk arts like this. At times eight to ten dancers form a group and participate in Poikal Kudirai Attam.
Some places have added their own regional flavors to this dance, like in Madurai the dance is enacted sans the wooden legs and performed bare foot by the dancers who wear anklets during the show. The dance was recently performed in Chennai Sangamam festival which made Poikal Kudirai a popular performance.