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Preserving the purity of Margamkali

Special Correspondent
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TRADITIONAL ART: A programme to train dance teachers in Margamkali in progress at St. Thomas College in Thrissur on Thursday. — Photo: K. C. Sowmish
TRADITIONAL ART: A programme to train dance teachers in Margamkali in progress at St. Thomas College in Thrissur on Thursday. — Photo: K. C. Sowmish

Twenty dance teachers from different parts of the State are being trained in Margamkali in a programme conducted by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi and the Institute of Folklore Studies.

The six-day programme began here on Thursday. Margamkali narrates legends related to St. Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles.

Important festival

In olden days, no important festival of Syrian Christians in the State would be complete without a presentation of Margamkali.

“The objective of the programme is to preserve the purity of Margamkali. Judges at school youth festivals invariably complain that presentations by participants are not authentic. The best way to preserve the purity of the art form is to teach teachers, who in turn will pass on the knowledge to their students,” said O. D. Varkey, chairman of the Institute of Folklore Studies.

Varkey, a former associate of Choomar Choondal who contributed much to the revival of Margamkali, and Kottayam Padma Kumar are the trainers.

On Thursday, the participants were trained in enacting the famous Vandana Ganam of the Margamkali song, “Meykanintha peeliyum mayil melthonnum meniyum thei thei, Piditha dhandum kaiyum meyyum.”

14 stanzas

The Margamkali song has 14 stanzas or padas. In his work, ‘Keralathile Kristeeya Charithram' (History of Christian literature in Kerala), P. G. Varghese observes that the song was authored by Vettikunnel Itti Thomman Kathanar, a 17th-century priest.

But T. M. Chummar, in his study, ‘Padya Sahitya Charithram' (History of poetry), challenges this claim saying the language used in the song belongs to period older than the 17th century.

A few scholars maintain that the songs were written by many poets belonging to different periods.

Some of the improvements in the text are attributed to poets such as Kadavil Chandy Kathanar, Mathai Kathanar and Edappoor Unnithan Kathanar.

The dance movements in Margamkali, accompanied by the mnemonic, ‘thai thai', are called Mukkanni, Murukku Mukkanni, Irattivattom and Kazhchappadom.

In his book, 'Kerala Sahitya Charitram', poet-historian Ulloor Parameswara Iyer compares the movements in Margamkali to those in Sanghakkali, practised by Brahmins.

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