For the people of Thrissur, Thiruvonam is about spending quality time with family, but once it is over, it is time for fun and revelries outside the house. For it is just after Onam that the Kummatty and Pulikali performances get underway. Both dance forms unique to Kerala.
While Pulikali is all about people dressed up as wild cats, Kummatty is supposed to be the companions of Lord Shiva, who visits the houses to bless people. Kummatty dresses up in clothes woven with grass and they wear colorful masks. There are unique songs that are played when the Kummatty takes to the streets. The beat of these songs peppy and at times merging with the contemporary. And the excitement is palpable.
The first of the Kummatty performers come from Kizhakkumpattukara. And they take to the streets with pomp and are welcomed with piety. This year some of the masks are so tall that they will have you gaping in awe.
On the day of Chathayam Astra’s Kummatty players will dance to the rhythm of ‘Shingarimelam’ by Ponnan Peringodan. The club would also introduce an elegant mask of Lord Krishna which is beautifully crafted by Elavally Nanda, a native of Guruvayoor.
Kummatty, they say is the ‘Boothaganam’ (companion) of Lord Shiva who visited their homes to take away bad luck. The artists who dress up as Kummatty would sing songs praising the characters in various legends. There is also a legend related to a dispute between Lord Shiva and Arjuna behind the art form of Kummattykali.
Mask and embellishments
Many groups still use the masks handed over by the previous generations. Traditionally these masks were made by boiling the root of jackfruit tree in oil and paddy grains. These days the masks are carved from the wood of Kumizh (beechwood tree) as they are light weight and easy to make. A Kummatty mask would cost between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20, 000. Charcoal, red bricks and natural colors which were used to paint the masks gave way to modern synthetic colors which come in myriad shades. The artists usually don the masks and adornments depicting characters like Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Sugreevan, Bali, Old Man and Woman, Demon, Garuda, Ganapati, and the mother goddess.
The grass garment
The unique garment worn by Kummatty is made from ‘Parapidaka Pullu’(ayurvedic herb also called diamond flower) or banana leaf. As Onam nears the groups presenting Kummatty would be busy searching for ‘Parapidaka pullu’. Since this medicinal herb gives out more oxygen, the artists who dress up as Kummatty would be able to perform comfortably for hours. This herb which was once available in abundance in villages is rarely seen these days. Some groups cultivate it for their own use while others bring in from other districts. Meanwhile, the villages in Thrissur are eagerly waiting to welcome Kummatty to their homes to take away bad luck and usher in happiness and prosperity during Onam.