Festivals reflect the very spirit and harmony of the people in Kerala. It is the common space where religion sweeps into the social life of people. Patayani is such an annual ritualistic festival celebrated in Bhadrakali temples of Central travancore. Patayani is celebrated during the Malayalam months of Kumbham, Meenam and Medam that are approximately February, March and April. The dance is performed in the night at the temple premises. Similar to any other festivals in India Patayani is also largely rooted in the soil of myths and legends. The ritual of Patayani is a symbolic act for pleasing the goddess Bhadrakali who remains violent after her victory over the mythical demon Darika.
The patayani dance astonishes the audience with its splendid theatrical values. The language used in the performance is very evocative. The performers wear colourful masks and spectacular headgears, called Kolams. The major accompaniment is Thappu, a one-sided drum. The performer attains a frenzied trance during the dance. The rhythm, vision and aesthetics of patayani are truly awe inspiring. All these culminate in the vigorous movements of the performer. There are different varieties of effigies to represent like Yakshi pakshi, kaalan, kuthira, Maadan, marutha. Pisach, Ganapathi, Bhairavi and kaanjiramaala.
The essential parts of patayani are Kolamezhuthu, Kolamthullal, Kolappattu, Thappumelam and Vinodam. Kolam is the folk deity drawn on green areca palm fronds. The materials for make-up are obtained from nature like spathe of areca palm, terra-cotta powder, and charcoal and turmeric powder. Kolappattu is the song which accompanies the performance which includes prayers, admirations and requests to the deities. Thappu is the 'Asuravadya' made by covering a round frame of Jacktree hardwood with buffalo hide. The performer makes rhythmic footsteps in tune with the kolappattu and the thappumelam. This is called the kolamthullal. Vinodam includes satire and protest targeting the social evils and vanities.
Kadammanitta, Kadalimangalam, Kannamthanam and Othara temples in Pathanamthitta are famous for annual Patayani performances. Patayani performances last for twenty-eight days in the courtyards of Kali temples.