Thalapanthukali, also known as ‘Thalamapanthu’ or ‘Onapanthu’, is a popular game played by children and adults alike as a part of Onam festivities. The game involves a ball (panthu) that has to be thrown over the head (thala). The players are split into two teams. One team throws the ball while the other stands guard. Each team may consist of seven players.
The game is played using a ball made of coconut leaves and a stick of 150 cm length. The stick/stump is planted firmly on the ground. The player has to stand a few feet away from the stump, facing backwards. Using one hand, the player has to throw the ball into the air and hit it using the other hand. If the team members of the opposite team are able to catch the ball before it hits the ground or flick the stump using the ball, the player is declared out.
The game can last for hours as either team has to win. In some places, especially in Malabar, animal skin is used to make balls. The ball is made by taking processed animal skin, filling it with coconut fibre and weaving it with cotton thread. The ball can be up to 16 inches in diameter and it weighs 300 grams. Players have to hit the ball hard due to its weight.
The rules of Thalapanthu differ from place to place. There are eight phases of the game, namely ‘Otta’, ‘Petta’, ’Pidichan’, ‘Talam’, ‘Kalingkeezhu’, ‘Indan’ and ‘Chakkarakai’. In some parts, these eight phases are called ‘single’, ‘double’, ‘Muruk’, ‘Kavidi’, etc. The manner in which the game is played also varies from place to place. The most striking difference can be found in southern parts of Kerala. Here the stumps are not used and the first phase of the game - Thalama, is skipped. In southern Kerala, the game is known as ‘Tholpanthu Kali’ and ‘Vettupanthu Kali’. Despite the difference in the name and rules, this game is an essential part of Onam celebrations throughout Kerala.