<< Kerala Art Forms

The Margamkali is a ritual Xian folk dance in which twelve people dance around a traditional oil lamp (Nilavilakku). They represent the twelve apostles and Christ himself is represented by the lamp. They perform the dance wearing the traditional white dhoti and a peacock feather on the turban.

There is a traditional text which accompanies the Margamkali. It is in 14 strophes and has about 450 lines. This song is said to be of a period older than the Portuguese invasion of Kerala. The narration is not accompanied by any musical instrument. The theme of the song is a rendition of St. Thomas’ activities in Malabar and his ultimate martyrdom. This is the song dance part of the art form. The song is sung by the leader of the troupe called the “Asan”.

Form of recreation

The rest of the performers lend the chorus. The language of the narration reveals the intimacy between Old Tamil and Malayalam. With passing time new songs were added to the original text and these were in pure Malayalam. Next to the song-dance there is a display of martial arts with artificial swords and shields. The Parichamuttukali is one such martial art displayed in the Margamkali.

Traditionally the Margamkali was the recreation or activity which helped the Christian soldiers pass time. Recently however, it is almost a compulsory performance in Syriac Christian weddings and such occasions. Anjilimoottil Ittithomman Kathanar is a famous exponent of the art.

This art form is essentially famous among the Syrian Christians of Kottayam and Thrissur districts of Kerala. Traditionally it was an art performed by men only. Nowadays it is also performed by women and on stage and school competitions etc.

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