Kerala Folk Dance, Songs and Parichamuttu

Parichamuttu is an old Kerala folk dance accompanied by songs. It is closely related to the the martial art form of kalaripayattu.

Parichamuttu Performance

In its original form, parichamuttu performers were dressed in just a tightly fitting loin-cloth (kacha). They anointed their bodies with oil and wore traditional anklets. The performers were warriors attached to the regional rulers and their performances were more martial than art.

These days, performers typically wear more embellished apparel and they only act out mock fights. Both the original and current performances involved players armed with traditional swords and shields.

The performance is highly ritualistic. It starts with set-the-mood songs and prayer to Lord Ganesh, proceeds through the performers greeting the audience, their teachers and their family deity. Then they receive the swords and shields in a traditional manner and get ready for the performance.

Now comes the core of vigorous "fighting" with the performers bending behind their shields (paricha), jumping out in attack, parrying the attacks with shields, somersaults in the air, spinning around and clanging the shields together (muttu) while dancing around in tune with the background singing. The singing and dancing might follow different tempo patterns - a very slow starting one increasing to a fast pace or a steady one gradually growing to faster tempo.

The songs speak generally of stories from mythology. For example, one song challenges Bali, the ferocious monkey warrior of Ramayana, to leave his land, dwelling and wives, and come out to fight in the jungle. Others might refer to scenarios from day-to-day lives of the fighters. Like a wife who goes begging to seven houses, gathers a little paddy, roasts and pounds it, bundles it into a cloth bag and hands the bag devotedly to her husband. Yet other songs might relate to the performance itself. One song suggests to the performer to step with his anklet-laden feet, bend down and then stretch out.