Folk Dances of SOUTH INDIA

  • Know about the key folk dances of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

India has a rich cultural heritage that has existed for centuries. There are different folk dances in each state. The author proposes to write five articles on folk dances of each region north, south, east, west and union territories. Each region would include numerous states. Part one i.e. this one covers South India namely the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.


Folk dances of Kerala

1. Kaikottikali


Kaikottikali (clap and dance), one of the most popular folk dance of Kerala, performed exclusively by women, during social and religious occasions. “Kai” means hand, “Kotti” means to clap and “Kali” means play or dance, hence clap and dance together, signifying unity and bonding of humanity. This dance is also known as thiruvathirakali and is danced in circular patterns, where the dancers move both clock-wise and anti-clock wise with slow, graceful and gliding movements, similar to the movements seen in the  feminine, lyrical classical dance of Kerala, known as Mohiniattam.


To see video of dance 3 minutes


2. Padayani


Padayani is a folk dance featuring the goddess in her varied manifestations and attributes revealing universal motherhood and the virile aspect of the destroyer of evil. It is performed in Bhadrakali temple in areas like Kottangal, Ottara and Kadammanittha etc.


Inspired by Hindu traditions, it is believed that this dance was performed by Lord Shiva to appease Goddess Durga, after she defeated the demon Darika. Dancers appear with masks known as kollam that represent spiritual energies and divine characters for e.g. Ganapathi Kollam, Yakshi Kollam, Pakshi Kollam, Pishachu Kollam and Bhairavi Kollam etc. The dance is performed to the beats of the chenda and other instruments.


To see video of dance 1.17 minutes


3. Theyyam


Theyyam is a colourful dance, particularly noteworthy for its elaborate and large head gear that symbolise or portray the mythological character represented by the dancer, popular in north Kerala, in Kolathunadu. This dance has its ritualistic significance and is performed to appease and make peace with gods to ensure good harvest, health and prosperity. There are particular communities that perform the theyyam, they are known as Vannan, Malayan, Anjunoottan, Kopalar etc.


Also read Experiencing the Theyyam dance of Kerala

To see video of dance 6 minutes


Folk dance of Tamil Nadu

1. Oyilattam


Oyilattam is originally performed by men, as they move to the rhythmic beats of the percussion instrument known as Thavil. The dancers hold colourful kerchiefs and flags in their hands and bells tied around the ankles and dance with jingels and vibrancy and intricate movements, revealing songs and stories relating to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.


To see video of dance 4 minutes


2. Mayilattam


Mayilattam as the name signifies is the dance of the peacock, hence the dancer appears in the typical disguise of the peacock with long tail of beautiful feathers. There is only one peacock or more, along with the drummer who plays the Dhol and the small drums played with sticks. This dance is not easy as the dancer has to move and dance with the typical characteristics of the peacock.


To see video of dance 4 minutes

Braj ko Holi – dance with peacock feathers. Krishna with flute and Sudarshan Chakra. 


3. Kummi


Kummi is a folk dance performed by women in which they move in circular patterns. They move in rhythm and uniformity of movements, signifying unity and bonding with each. This dance is particularly performed in festive occasions like Pongal and Navaratri.


To see video of dance 5 minutes


4. Garadi


Garadi is the acrobatic dance of the monkeys as the dancers appear as monkeys. It is believed that this dance was originally performed by Sugreev to celebrate the safe return of Lord Rama and Sita, after defeating Ravana. The dancers, mainly men dance with ten iron rings in each leg which is known as Anjali. The dance is performed for hours, sometimes full night too.


To see video of dance 1.26 minutes


Folk dance of Andhra Pradesh

1. Veerabhadra Nrityam

 Mysore Dussehra 2017

Veerabhadra or Veerangam dance is performed as a tribute to Lord Shiva. This dance is related to the incarnation of Lord Shiva as Veerabhadra, as he is completely enraged by the embarrassing treatment offered by King Daksha to his daughter Sati, who indulges in self-immolation. Veerabhadra destroys everything. This dance is performed as an age old custom and also as a form of worship to Lord Shiva.


To see video of dance 5 minutes


2. Butta Bommalu


Butta Bommalu is the known as the dance of masks or basket toys as the costume is so elaborate like huge toys that create a rare spectacle. It is based on stories of traditions, the dancers sing and dance, revealing varied stories and they appear as Lord Rama, Sita, Hanuman etc. The appearance of huge toys attracts lot of attention. Particularly children are excited to watch them perform.


To see video of dance 2 minutes


3. Kollatam  


Kollatam or stick dance in which the dancers dance along with sticks, maintaining fine rhythm while dancing. It is believed that the dance was performed to destroy the malevolent demon who created havoc in the village. The dance is performed by young girls. After witnessing this dance, the demon quickly relinquished his abhorrence and became peaceful.


To see video of dance 4 minutes


Folk dance of Karnataka

1. Dollu Kunitha

Mysore Dussehra 2017.

  Mysore Dussehra 2017. 

Dollu Kunitha is a dance with huge drums as the dancers are drummers as well, as they move and dance along with rhythmic beats of the drums. This dance is performed as a worship to Lord Shiva, as a part of a ritual, particularly observed by the Kuruba Gowda community of North Karnataka. This dance is also known as the Bhairava dance, as it celebrates the killing of demons and is performed fiercely with the beating of drums. It is featured in festivals like the Karaga festival or Bangaluru Habba.


To see video of dance 6 minutes


2. Gaarudi Gombe  


Gaarudi Gombe is a dance in which the costume is of great importance. Here the dress suits are made of bamboo sticks. The Karaga dance is performed with metal pot, on which stands tall a floral pyramid, balanced on carriers head.


To see video of dance 2 minutes


3. Pata Kunitha


Pata Kunitha and Puja Kunitha is a ritualistic folk dance, performed when rituals are to be performed. Hence, these traditional dances are performed with a lot of devotion and excitement. The dance is for the betterment of the society and peaceful living.


To see video of dance 3 minutes


Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi, Kathakali exponent, dance teacher, choreographer, actor and arts critic for over four decades, contributing for national and international publications. He is particularly credited for his lecture-demonstrations on Indian classical dancing which is a fine combination of both education and entertainment.


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