The Puducherry audience was treated to four art forms of Kerala at four different venues.

Blazing fires, clashing swords and swirling sticks were all part of the cultural extravaganza at the Kalari Fest 2012, which featured four different kinds of performance art forms of Kerala – Mohiniyattom, Kalaripayattu, Taayampada and Theyyam. The fest spanned four different venues – Aurodhan Gardens, Bharat Nivas, Kalari Sangam and Ashram Auditorium – and featured performances by masters as well as amateurs.

The festival was organised by the Hindustan Kalari Sangam in Auroville. The idea was to bring these ancient performances to Puducherry to help the people understand these forms.

Each night's performance started with Mohiniyattom, presented by a disciple of Bharati Shivaji. It was a ten-minute affair, more in the nature of an appetiser.

Variety on show

The Kalaripayattu performances were in the style of the Kadathanathan Kalari, but with a few variations. The Hindustan Kalari Sangam is trying to integrate the various styles and even introduce some martial arts from Tamil Nadu, such as Silambattam. The performances on all four nights tried to incorporate these different styles, according to Prabhath Bhaskaran, one of the organisers.

On three of the four of the nights, the performances involved only basic exercises, with emphasis on correct performances. Since most of the audience had only heard of Kalari, it was important to keep it simple, according to the head of the Hindustan Kalari Sangam Lakshmanan Gurukkal.

Both students and masters of the art of Kerala, from the Hindustan Kalari Sangam in Auroville exhibited their skills on the stage with sticks, swords, short swords and even unarmed combat.

The Taayampada is a performance of traditional drums, signifying a call to the heavens. The drummers stood in a semi-circle with one man in the middle. While the rest of them set the rhythm, the man in the middle breaks the rhythm, adding to the beauty of the art form, explained Prabhath.

Grand finale

The finale was Theyyam, where the protagonist dresses up as a deity and presents an elaborate dance. At the Kalari Sangam, the performer wore the attire of Veerabhadran and on the other days it was Rekta Chamundi. At the Kalari Sangam, there were two performers, one who was dressed as the deity and the other who performed a kind of dance with burning straw. At the end of the 20-minute performance, the deity blessed the people in the audience.