Kalam, a unique drawing of Kerala is a ritual art form as old as the Sanghom Age. Kalams occupy an important place in Kerala’s rituals and figures of favourite Goddesses are drawn on the floor using powders. Songs are rendered to appease the figures/deities.
Coloured powders are used for preparing the kalam. Primarly, five natural colours are used – white, black, yellow, green and red. For making the colours various natural products are used. White colours are extracted from rice flour, charcoal powder for black, turmeric powder for yellow, powdered green leaves for green and a mixture of turmeric powder and lime for red. In Nagakalam, instead of vaka (gulmohar) leaves, powdered manchadi (Bead tree) leaves are used as the leaves of vaka is poisonous.
Kalam are drawn by people belonging to different communities in different places. Figures are drawn based on the rituals of a particular place and these include yakshi, sarpam, bhadrakali, gandharvan and gulikan. Kalam drawn are different for ritual performances like Kalamezhuthu pattu, Mudiyettu, Paana, Theeyattu, Pulluvan pattu, Kethronpattu, Gandharvan Thullal, Malayan Kettu, Balikala, Bhagavatipattu, Kalathilaripattu, etc.
Bhadrakali kalam and Pattu
Kalamezhuthu pattu performed mostly in Bhadrakali temples are known as Bhadrakali kalam and Pattu. These are also sung in Vettakkorumakan temples. The number of hands of Bhadrakali determines the size of the kalam. Some kalam have sixteen to sixty-four hands.
Once the kalam drawing has been completed, paddy, coconuts and fibres are placed in the Kalam. And then starts the rendering of songs. After rendering the songs, the performer circumambulates the kalam. Against the background music of instruments, the singer dances vigourously and will erase the kalam. The popular song rendered in Bhadrakali pattu is that of Bhadrakali killing the demon Darikan. These are also known as ‘thottom paattu’.
Nagakalam and Pulluvan Paattu
Nagas or serpents are considered Gods of the earth. Many rituals are performed to appease the serpents for peace and happiness in the society. Prominent among these rituals are Nagakalam and Pattu. Naga worship is mostly performed by the Pulluvar community in Kerala.
Usually the rituals begin after the dusk with Ganapathi pooja. The kalam for this will be of Nagas and Nagaraja. Once the kalam is completed Pancharchana is performed and is followed by Akamuzhiyal, a ritual striking the Pulluva Kudam (pot). Then Muram pooja for Garudan and Noorum Paalum for the serpents is offered. After that Bhadrakali and Ashtavastus are worshipped the girls who have been on fast enter the kalam and start dancing (thullal). The songs sung are Ganapathy Vandanam and those exorcising the Nagas. The Ashtanagas are Ananthan, Vasuki, Thakshakan, Karkodakan, Shankupalan, Mahapadman, Padman and Kaaliyan. Young girls dance shaking arecanut flowers (pookulas in Malayalam). The tempo increases imitating the movements of the serpents and will erase the kalam.
The rituals of drawing kalam and singing is observed in North Kerala also. The chief priest will be Kaniyan or Kanissan. People belonging to the Vannan community also perform these rituals. In a specially built pandal the ritual takes place. The figures drawn are those of Gandharvan, Karukalaki, Bhairavan, Rakteswari and other Goddesses. The ‘piniyal’ stands in front of the kalam and sings the song. The ilathalam (cymbal) is then played. The songs are from Kalyana saugandhikam, Balivijayam, Kuchelavrutham, Krishnaleela, Marappattu. When the tempo of the song and beat increases the ‘piniyal’ dances vibrantly and the kalam is erased.
Kalams of Cheerbakavu
While drawing Kalam, the Thiyyas of Cheerbakavu North Kerala uses a particular singing tradition, thus known as Kalam of Cheerbakavu. The rituals for Kalam at Cheerbakavu will last for 3 days which begins with a Thalipoli festival which takes place once in a year. They draws the Nagakalam and the song describes cheerba killing demon, Darikan.