I was fascinated with Kalampattu-Kalamezhuthu, a type of floral drawing which originated from antiquity and has a Tantric base. I myself had drawn few Kalams in my younger days while I was in my college on special occasions when I was in the Arts club. But it was not the traditional ritualistic drawing I did, more modern designs. I must say I used modern pigments and it was well appreciated by my artists colleagues.
Then I came to know some family connection so to say. My family name is Kalampattu, an ancient family originated from Arakkuzha some 900 years. My uncle Fr.Francis tells me that there is still some Kalmpattu Mana or illams in that part of the world.
I wonder any spiral of my genes has a link with these ancestors who were masters of this folk art. I have no idea. Is it anything to do with a “silent” artist sleeping in me.
The thoughts haunt me at times.
Let me tell you what Kalampattu is
Kalampattu is a folk art form of northern kerala. The words ‘Kalam’ in Malayalam stands for drawing and ‘Pattu’ means song. The artist uses the floor as his canvas. The Kalam in the Shakti cult denotes a floor painting of the goddess.
Kalamezhuthu pattu is performed as part of the rituals to worship and propitiate goddess like Shakti-Kali .This ritualistic art is a common feature of temples as well as noble households.
Before the form of the goddess is painted, a Chakra in the tantric structure is drawn using two colors, white and yellow made respectively of rice and turmeric flour.
This art form which is over 600 years or more old and is performed by a group of five to fifteen people in temples. The rituals are performed around the kolam -an elaborate picture drawn on the floor, using five colors. The colored powders used for the kalam are prepared from natural products only.
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).
It often takes more than two hours to finish a kalam drawing with appealing perfection. Decorations like a canopy of palm fronds, garlands of red hibiscus flowers and thulasi or Ocimum leaves are hung above the kalam.
The figures drawn usually have an expression of anger, and other emotions.
The kalams or drawings are erased at the end of the ritual to the accompaniment of musical instruments like ilathalam, veekkan chenda, kuzhal, kombu and chenda.
Kalamezhuthu artists are generally members of communities like the Kurups, Theyyampadi Nambiars, Theeyadi Nambiars and Theeyadi Unnis. The kalams drawn by these people differ in certain characteristics. The Kalamezhuthu is a forty-day ritualistic festival beginning with the first of Vrischikam (Scorpio) in most Bhagavathy temples in Kerala
The Kalampattu begins with the beginning of the Kalam itself.
The Brahmin priest is assigned the privilege of doing the first special puja of the image before the onset of the Kalampattu.
To mark the end of the ritual of Kalampattu, the figure of Kali is wiped out, starting from the feet upwards, but keeping the breast untouched. The powder used for painting the breasts is then worshipfully collected for distribution as prasadam to the devotees.
The Kalampattu is associated with some ritualistic dances .The dancer is the descendant of a line of ritual dancers, the counterparts of the oracle and the shaman.
As the ritual dancer gets possessed by goddess, his limbs move and he utters uncontrollably. The movements and utterances rise slowly in a crescendo and reach their highest pitch and then abruptly stop. The possession leaves the body and the dancer falls exhausted and unconscious.
The ritual dancer visits the houses of the devotees and receives offerings to the goddess in the form of rice, coconuts which are the symbols of fertility.
The performance in the light of temple torches lasts through the night. The singers are neatly dressed with women wearing their hair on the side of the head. A series of songs (kalampattu) are sung to the accompaniment of nanthuni and elathalam.