Arinellur in Kollam district is on a mission to revive its best known art form of Karadikkali.

In the past, folk dancers regaled the people with ‘Karadikkali’ (dance of bears) during the Onam season. Men attired in plantain leaves and palm fronds moved from one location to another in merriment accompanied by a group of singers.

The dancers wore a crude mask to resemble bears. The team also comprised a “sahib” carrying a toy gun made of sticks. As the rhythmic song reached a crescendo with the clapping of hands, the sahib pulled out the gun and fired at the bears who dropped dead. This folk dance was most popular in Kollam and the adjoining districts of Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha.

However, over the last three decades, this form of merriment has virtually ceased to exist. In fact, the younger generation do not recall ever seeing such a performance.

In Kollam district, Arinellur village on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake used to be the hub of ‘Karadikkali.’ Senior Karadikkali artistes still live there but in the absence of any efforts to promote the dance form, they are reluctant to perform it even during the Onam season.

But there is still a ray of hope. Members of the Arinellur Jawahar Library have formed a ‘Karadikkali Sangham’ to revive the art form.

The first step in this direction was taken on Sunday at the Arinellur Areekavu Sree Bhagawathy Temple grounds where the dance was performed by Karadikkali veterans in the presence of a huge gathering. The sangham has also compiled 25 Karadikkali songs in a book, which was formally released on the occasion. Most of the songs begin with the chorus ‘thaninay thaninay thanana’..

Kureepuzha Sreekumar, poet and this year’s Kerala Sahitya AKademi award winner, who has come forward to support the move said since the last few years, the trend in Onam festivities in Kollam was to promote folk dance and arts forms from other areas, forgetting the district’s own traditions.

Talking to The Hindu, he said Karadikkali was a secular folk dance form and there was a famous artiste called Rasheed. He welcomed the efforts to revive Karadikkali and said the move proved that folk arts always lingered in the hearts of the people. “It cannot be suppressed”..

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