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Mayura in the Folk dance

by Sunil Nair

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky..
- William Wordsworth, 1802

..So has the peacock's spectacular dancing to the melodic music of the nature beheld us, a motif that has been inseparably woven into the very fabric of our art and mythology.

In the Hindu mythology it is believed to symbolize the conquest of vanity. It is said that Lord Karthikeya embarked on his journey around the earth from the Mt Kailash sitting on this very bird. It is believed that Karthikeya ends his journey by taking a permanent abode at the Palni Hills in Tamilnadu, where the bird is predominantly found even today.

This splendid bird has inspired many folk dance forms across northern and southern regions of India. Each of these dance forms, like the Mayur dance of Mathura, Mayura performed by the Khonds residing in densely wooded hill slopes of Andhra Pradesh, Mayilaattam of Tamilnadu and Kavadiyattam of Kerala - are unique in their artistry, costume and more so in the context.

Kavadiyattam, a religious folk dance form, is performed by devotees carrying Kaavadis and dancing to the beats of percussion instruments like Udukku, and Chenda, on their pilgrimage atop hills. Kaavadi is a long stick with milk pots tied at both the sides, with a decorated arch on top of it joining both the ends of the stick. Kaavadis are decorated with peacock feathers and flowers.

Mayilaattam is another traditional dance form which apparently originated in Tamilnadu. The dance is performed in the temples across Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh during festivals such as Sooramporu, in reverence to Lord Karthikeya. The dancer wears costumes made of silk, adding up the artificial accessory of a peacock in front and a spread tale made of original peacock feathers at the back. Standing on thin pieces of wood attached to the feet, the artist dances to the music of nadaswaram attempting to portray Lord Karthikeya’s journey on the peacock. Sadly Mayilaattam dancers are far and few today. Given that the art demands tough exercises and regular practice, and that the demand for such performances are seasonal, there are not many youngsters taking on to this art form.

It is indeed fascinating how one bird has deeply etched many folk art forms, each as brilliant, radiant and contrasting as the colors of the bird's feathers.

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