Kaikottikali or Thiruvathirakali is an extremely popular folk dance performed by the maidens of Kerala. It is a group dance and is mainly performed on the occasion of Onam and Thiruvathira. Women, both young and old submerge themselves in the spirit of the occasion and dance with perfect ease.
Kaikottikali is regarded as an extremely elegant dance form as the Lasya or the beauty element predominates. Although an element of thandava (dance to destroy the universe) is also included when men too participate. The thandava dominant form is witnessed in some parts of Malabar Area.
Dress code of Kaikottikali is hugely impressive as women folk neatly attire themselves in a typical Kerala style. They wear gold bordered traditional two piece cloth called mundu and neriyathu; A mundu is a one piece cloth draped on the lower part of the body while neriyathu is worn over a blouse.
Women also beautifully tie their hair in a form of bun. A fragrant jasmine garland on the bun further enhances the charm of the dancer.
Great coordination is depicted in Kaikottikali as the performers, usually eight to ten in number, clap in unison. Performers move in circles sometimes in clockwise and sometimes in anti-clockwise directions, gracefully bending in sideways as they do so. Dancers also beautifully co-ordinate their hand movements as they go clapping upwards and downwards in rhythm with the beat and in tune with the song they are singing. Generally, the girls move in a circle around an intricately decorated pookalam (flower rangoli) at the centre of which is placed a nilavilakku (traditional brass lamp). One of the performers in the first line start a line and the others at the back repeat it as chorus.
Tales depicted in Kaikottikali owe their origin to Kathakali, a profound dance form of Kerala. ‘Ragachaya’ of Kaikottikali derives its origin from Kathakali. Accordingly, the songs are based on episodes like Krishna-leela, Shakunthalam, Kuchelavritham and Dhruvacharithram. Greater emphasis is given to the rhythmic movements than mudra.
Popular ragas found in Kaikottikali songs include Hussaini, Bhairavi and Kamboji. Though on several occasions songs deviate from puranic stories and make use of folk tales. At times, devotional songs are also rendered in the worship of Saraswati, Ganapati and Krishna. Special songs are also sung in praise of King Mahabali as according to a popular legend, the festival on Onam celebrates the arrival of the king to the state of Kerala.