Onam banner

Celebration of Kerala's Tradition & Culture


Thiruvathirakali or Kaikottikali is a unique dance form performed in Kerala. It is popular among women in Kerala and is also known as Kummikkali, mainly performed on the occasion of Onam.

Thiruvathira as a dance form is a collective performance by women around a traditional wick lamp (Nila Vilakku). A container or Kindi filled with water, Arippara or barrel of rice and Ashtamangalayam (set of eight auspicious elements) are also arranged near the lamp. The dancers co-ordinate their hand movements as they go clapping upwards and downwards in a rhythm, in tune with the songs that they are singing.

Women are seen dressed in traditional Kerala attire. It may be either two pieces of cloth called Mundu Neriyathu or a Kerala sari. The dancers tie their hair in a bun and decorate it with jasmine flowers and a small bunch of Dasapushpam (10 sacred flowers). The dance performance usually begins in praise of Ganesha followed by a prayer to Saraswati called Saraswati Vandanam. Songs in praise of Siva and Vishnu, folk tales and Kathakali songs are also performed by singers in the background. The dancers move in a circle, making both fast and slow movements in a graceful manner according to the rhythm of the song.

There is also the tradition of Kummiyadi in between these movements. The element of lasya or slow-paced movements is a significant feature of a Thiruvathira performance. Though widely performed during the festival of Onam, the earliest accounts of Thiruvathirakali date back to the ancient festival of Thiruvathira. The celebrations traditionally fall during the Malayalam month of Dhanu.

The merriment begins on a full moon day or Velutha Vaavu. According to popular Hindu belief, in the month of Dhanu, during Shukla Paksham, the phenomenon of the coming together of the full moon day and the Thiruvathira star marks the birth star of Lord Shiva. Legend has it that Siva married Parvati on this day of Thiruvathira. Another popular mythic tale that one finds in relation to Thiruvathira is the charring of the God of Love, Kamadeva by Siva. Mourning the demise of Kamadeva, his wife Rati Devi fasts and prays to Siva to get her husband back. This is also believed to be a precursor to the festival we see today.

There are many rituals associated with Thiruvathira. The performance usually takes place at night where women stay awake and perform Thiruvathira. They bath early in the morning, adorning fresh flowers in their hair. On the night of Makira, the day of fasting, the diet essentially involves an item named ‘Ettangadi’. Thiruvathira Puzhukku is also a typical meal associated with Thiruvathira.

Festival Calendar