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Aivar natakam is one among the popular rural dramas of central Kerala. It is also known as Aivarkali and Pandavar Kali, which means the play of the Pandavas - the five heroes of Mahabharatha - and is performed by the Viswakarmas which enfolds five communities consisting of Aasaari (Carpenter), Muusaari (Brassmith), Kollan (Blacksmith), Tattaan (Goldsmith) and Kalthachan (Mason). This ritualistic art form is performed in almost all important temples of Kerala. Today this art form is found in central Kerala. In Trichur District of central Kerala, Vilkurupas also enact this art form. It is performed on a Tara or a raised platform in a beautifully decorated pandal with a five - wicked Nilavilakku (bell-metal lamp) at its centre. The Nilavilakku is crowned with multi coloured flowers. Kulaavazha or plantain trees with full bunch of ripe plantains are erected on both sides of the Tara. In some villages such as Adattu, Olarikkara, Pallippuram etc, they have permanent platforms for the performance of Aivarnatakam near Bhagawathy temples. The performers describe to the audience the details of the stage and other decorations in their songs.
The performers numbering five or more with their leader called Kaliaasaan enter the performance arena after a ritualistic bath, with sandal paste on their foreheads, chests and upper arms. They are dressed in white dhoti and have a towel wrapped around their heads.The dancers gather around the lamp carrying small sticks with small bells attached at one end called Ponthi and offer their prayer to their deities. After Ganapathi Puja, they bow to their leader and the Nilavilakku and start the dance by singing devotional songs.
Aivar naatakam is performed during the night. Even three whole nights may not be sometimes enough to complete a story. The contestants have the freedom of choosing their actors for their performance. At the conclusion of the performance, the people conduct puja. Both the actors and spectators tahe fruits as a token of the blessings offered by Saraswathy, the Goddess of learning and wisdom.
This ritualistic dance is reminiscent of an ancient legend connected with Mahabharatha. On hearing that one of her devotees, Karna, had been killed by the Pandavaas in battle. Bhadrakaali is determined to annihilate them. Lord Krishna who is a friend of the Pandavaas, comes to know this and he directs them to sing praises of the goddess and to propitiate her. The legend has it that Lord Krishna transformed himself into a lamp and prompted his friends to sing and dance in praise of the Devi. The Devi finally becomes pleased and blesses them. In those days Aivar natakam was used as an effective mass media for transmitting morally oriented stories of epics in the villages of Kerala, particularly among the artisan class and the Harijan community.
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