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What is Kalamezhuthu?


To a true artist, the entire planet is their canvas. This simple ideal can be viewed at its epitome during the 40 day Kalamezhuthu festivals held at Bhagavathy Temples across God’s Own Country. Maestros combine coloured powders to draw beautiful drawings on the floor, exalting and worshipping the great Gods of the land including Bhadrakaali, Ayyappan, Serpent or Vettakkorumakan. From temples to noble households, one sees these unique portraits accompanied by the Kalamezhuthupattu. These are erased at the end of the ritual, with the rhythms of various musical instruments like the ilathalam, veekkanchenda, kuzhal, kombu and chenda, acting as accompaniment.

Only natural products are used for the ritual to make the Kalam, also called the dholichithram or powder drawing. The pigments are extracted from plants- rice flour (white), charcoal powder (black), turmeric powder (yellow), powdered green leaves (green), and a mixture of turmeric powder and lime (red). The entire process can take up to 2 hours and it is sometimes even decorated with a canopy of palm fronds, garlands of red hibiscus flowers and thulasi or Ocimum leaves. The artists have traditionally belonged to the Kurups, Theyyampadi Nambiars, Theeyadi Nambiars and Theeyadi Unnis communities, each having their own unique kalam traits. A wide range of emotions are expressed in these works, as the artists bare their very soul during the same.

International acclaim

Attempt to enter the Guinness World Records, 2016

May 7, 2016: The Hindu

Aswin V. N., FEBRUARY 17, 2017: The Hindu

Grand design-The Kalam drawn by Manikandan Kallattu at the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi in Thrissur.– Photo- K.K. Najeeb
From: May 7, 2016: The Hindu

A Kalamezhuthu artiste has made an attempt to enter the Guinness World Records by drawing a 1,800 sq ft Kalam. Manikandan Kallattu of Kattakambal drew the Kalam in 14.15 hours.

Squatting on the floor, Manikandan Kallat draws the outline of the image of goddess Bhadrakali using finely-ground rice flour. He takes a handful of flour and using his thumb and index finger creates fine curved white lines with incredible ease.

This is a routine for the veteran artist who single-handedly finished a 1,800 sq.ft kalam of Bhadrakali with 64 hands in just 14-and-a-half hours in May 2016, at the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi at Thrissur, in a bid to set a Guinness record for the biggest powder drawing by a single person.

The Kalam was drawn in the Bharat Murali auditorium of the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi.

Manikandan drew the figure of Bhadrakali with 64 hands.

It has 45 ft length and 40 ft width. Kalamezhuthu is a ritualistic art form of Kerala. Rice powder, turmeric powder and colours made of some natural seeds and leaves are used to draw the Kalam.

Kalamezhuthu is a ritualistic art form, which is believed to have its roots in ancient tribal and Dravidian traditions. Kalamezhuthu, involves drawing elaborate figures of deities such as Bhadrakali, Vettakorumakan, Ayyappa, Gandharvas and Serpent gods.

Manikandan, one of the top Kalamezhuthu artists in Kerala, is a Kallat Kurup, one of the communities traditionally practising Kalamezhuthu Pattu. “Communities such as Mannaan, Malayan, Theeyadi Nambiar, Theyampadi Nambiar and Theeyattunni also practice it. But there are only a handful of people who are into this full time today,” he says.

Natural ingredients

On the day of the ritual, the drawing of the kalam begins after an initial round of puja and pattu (songs) - narrating the tales of gods or goddesses being drawn in the kalam. Manikandan finishes the outline (kalam Kurikkal, in Malayalam) in less than an hour. After this his team members join in with colours. “We still follow the traditional way. So the five colours, denoting the Pancha Bhoothas, used are made of natural ingredients. White powder is rice flour, black is ground charcoal, green is powdered manchadi or vaka leaves, yellow is turmeric powder and red is turmeric-quick lime mixture,” explains Manikandan.

The art form itself is time consuming, to learn as well as to practise. It takes years for a student to master the powder drawing and colouring techniques employed in the Kalamezhuthu. Manikandan himself took more than three years to learn the different facets of the art. “I was trained at Guruvayur Kshetra Kalanilayam, a performing art school run by Devaswom Board. They offered a Kalamezhuthu course from 1986 onwards. But they had to stop it in 1992 as there weren’t enough students,” recalls Manikandan.

The studies usually start with Kalam Kurikkal. It gives the student a general idea about the proportion of the Kalam. Only after mastering it are the students taught to colour or prepare the face of the image of the god and goddesses, which is the most difficult part of the art apart from the outline.

To teach and popularise the art form, Manikandan opened a Kalamezhuthu Pattu school at his house, Kattakampal, near Kunnamkulam, three years ago.

Intricate designs

Manikandan and his group of five artists work on the kalam for three more hours. The finished image is stunning. The furious, red-eyed Bhadrakali holds a blood-stained sword in one hand, the head of demon Dharika in the other and an assortment of things like the trishool, a serpent and a shield, in her other six hands.

The flowing attire, jewels and the crown showcase intricate designs. “Although the basic figure of the deity and weapons need to be done in the traditional manner, the artist can innovate with the design of the dress, jewels, crown and the Prabhamandalam (elaborate frame of the kalam),” says Manikandan. Later in the evening, different rituals associated with the Kalamezhuthu resume. The event concludes late at night with Manikandan himself arriving as the oracle (Velichapaadu), performing an intense ritualistic dance as the Bhadrakali and finally erasing the kalam.

Although the Kalamezhuthu season lasts for six months, he gets to do more than 100 kalams in a season. “Earlier this was restricted to temples, palaces and wealthy households. Today we are getting to do it in smaller households. It is today recognised as an art form and we are being considered as artists,” he adds.


To make it secular

‘Make Kalamezhuthu secular to popularise it’, May 2, 2018: The Indian Express

As an art form that combines drawing, sculpting and music, ‘kalamezhuthu’ has a unique place in Kerala’s culture, but it needs to be made secular for it to be popularized and accessible, said artist

As an art form that combines drawing, sculpting and music, ‘kalamezhuthu’ has a unique place in Kerala’s culture, but it needs to be made secular for it to be popularized and accessible, said artist and art and culture expert Satyapal.“Kalamezhuthu is not painting, but an inspiration; a process that shows collective consciousness. Many different art forms like chitram (painting), shilpam (sculpting), nritham (dancing), thalam (rhythm) and natyam (performance) come together in this functional art form

He was speaking at Abhimukham, a meet organised by Sahapedia.org to discuss the ancient ritualistic art practice. Abhimukham, organized by Sahapedia.org, an open online resource, is a monthly talk series on subjects relating to art, heritage and culture of India designed to expand public knowledge.

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