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Art forms in Tamilnadu

Puli Attam

Puli Attam is performed by young men with painted bodies in colours yellow and black, complete with fangs, head gear with ears, paws with claws and long tail, simulating the prancing, pouncing tiger in every ferocious move. Wildly beating drums add frenzy to the performance.

Sometimes, a goat is tied and brought along with the dancers, who pretend to pounce on it and kill it. This dance is regularly performed during temple festivals, hence drawing large crowds.


Oyil means beauty. This dance is hence the dance of beauty. Traditionally, it is danced only by men. Ten years ago women also began to participate in this dance. This dance is prevalent in the south districts, Kongu Nadu in particular. To start with, a few people form a proper row and dance with rhythmic steps with musical accompaniment. Intricate steps are used in martial arts, such as Silambattam. Then gradually the row will become longer as the new comers and guests too join and dance along as they like. The dancers wear ankle-bells. Normally, the dance is performed with the accomplishment of musical instruments and songs. It is performed near the temples or public places in the morning and evening hours, at times it even stretches till midnight. The Styles of Oyilattam differ from place to place.

Theru Koothu

Commonly called as “Street play”, Theru koothu is normally conducted during village festivals, during the Tamil months of Panguni and Aadi. This is performed where three or four streets meet; in open air, the place is lit by gas lights. A wooden bench is set up to seat the singers and the musical troupe. Here, make-up and costumes are considered as very important. Only men take part; that is, the female roles also played by men themselves. The performance consists of story-telling, dialogue-rendering, songs and dance, all performed by the artistes. Thus the artists should have a very good performing ability and should be all-rounders. The stories are taken from Puranas, epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, and also local folklores. The play starts in the late evening and gets over only at late night sometimes before the dawn. The performance is so captivating that the audience are spell-bound unaware of the longs hours. Theru Koothu is more popular in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu. The Koothu can be categorised as Nattu Koothu, including Vali Koothu, Kuravai Koothu etc. Samaya Koothu dealing with religious topics, Pei Koothu including Thunangai Koothu and Porkala Koothu dealing with martial events.

Bagavatha Nadanam

It is one of the beautiful folk dances of Tamil Nadu, a melodious and charming part of the folk culture and tradition of Tamil Nadu

This dance is performed inside a temple, around a lamp. The purpose is to worship Lord Krishna, and celebrate his frolics with the Gopikas. This is performed during Ramanavami and Gokulashtami.

Bommalattam (Puppet Show)

Puppet shows are held in every village during festivals and fairs. Many different kinds of puppets are used for this show - cloth, wood, leather, etc. They are manipulated through strings or wires. The persons stand behind a screen and the puppets are held in front. The stories enacted in the puppet shows are from puranas, epics and folklore. These shows are very entertaining and hold both adults and children enthralled for many hours.


Kol silambam or fighting with a long stick and even with swords is a martial art from the days of Tamil Kings. Fights were characterized by moves of self-defence, practice of skilful methods of approaching the opponent, overpowering and subduing him, and finally teaching him a lesson, all to put an end to violence. A violent fighting art has metamorphosed into a non-violent form of folk dance, adding stepping styles following the measure of time. It also teaches the performer the methods of the self-defence in modern day world.

This art is widely practiced in Tamil Nadu and considered to be the game of bravery. The name Silambam refers to the long staff used in the game, which is made out of bamboo or red teak wood. Silambam is not only an art or game, it’s a skill that teaches discipline, presence of knowledge, humanity, peace, brotherhood, and even more subtle things. The master is addressed as Aasaan in Silambam. Unlike Karate or Kungfu, there is no level in Silambam, once the student is well versed in the art, he will be given a red band and declared as Aasaan. It can be seen both as a healthy practice, like Yoga, with beautifully flowing techniques, and as an efficient, combative system.

Kai Silambu Attam

This dance is performed in temples during Amman festivals or Navaratri festival. The dancers wear ankle-bells and hold anklets or silambu in their hands, which make noise when shaken. They perform various stepping styles jumps. The dance is in praise of all female deities, the most preferred, powerful and angry goddess - Kali or Durga.

Poikkal Kudirai Aattam

This dance is one of the most ancient folk dances of Tamil Nadu. This dance has other names also such as Puravi attam (Horse dance) and Marakkal Adal (wooden leg dance). As per the name, the dancer dances with upper half body of the horse tied to his/ her waist. This dance is performed only during happy occasions like temple processions, festivals, celebrations, and village gatherings. This dance is the pioneer for many dances in India including Saithikoda in Orissa, Theelu Gurram in Andhra Pradesh, Kachikoti in Rajasthan and Kuthikali in Kerala. It’s a joyful experience to see the Poikal Kuthirai dancers dance for drum beats (Melam, Kottu), their spirit will tend the onlookers to join them and dance along with them.

Kavadi Aattam

Kavadi attam is one of the folk dances of Tamil Nadu. This dance is a form of offering which is dedicated to Lord Muruga to please him and seek his immense blessings. Though it is a religious ritual practiced by devotees, it’s basically a dance that needs proper guidance and co-ordination. The people of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Malaysia are well versed in performing this art.

When ancient Tamilians went on a pilgrimage, they carried offerings to the Gods tied on the either end of the long stick, which was balanced on their shoulders. In order to lessen the boredom of the long travel they used to sing and dance about the Gods. Thus Kavadi Aattam has its origin in this practice. Special songs were created to be sung while carrying the Kavadi called Kavadi Sindhu. This dance is performed only by men. It is done by balancing a pole with pots fixed on either ends, filled with milk or coconut water.


Kolaattam is an ancient village art. This is mentioned as 'Cheivaikiyar Kolattam' in Kanchipuram, which proves its antiquity. This is performed, only by women with two sticks held in each hand, beaten to make a rhythmic noise. Pinnal Kolaattam is danced with ropes which the women hold in their hands, the other of which are tied to a tall pole. With planned steps, the women skip over each other, which forms intricate lace-like patterns in the ropes. As coloured ropes are used, this lace looks extremely attractive. Again, they unravel this lace reversing the dance steps. This is performed for ten days, starting at the night of Amavasai or New moon night after Deepavali.

Mayil Attam

Maliy Attam means the "Peacock dance". In this dance girls adorn themselves as peacocks and dance elegantly. Other similar dances are, Kaalai Attam (dressed as a bull), Karadi Attam (dressed as a bear) and Aali Aattam (dressed as a demon) which are performed in the villages during village get-togethers. Vedala Aattam is performed wearing a mask depicting demons. Costumes are very important in these types of dances.


Karagaattam is a popular village dance in Tamil Nadu. This dance played a vital role in 18s and 19s, where every function in the villages are incomplete without Karagattam. It is a very vibrant dance, consisting of few dancers dressed up in gorgeous attires, balancing a pot in their head, and dancing to the music with joy. This dance is dedicated to the rain goddess Mari, for her immense blessings. Sometimes this dance is performed purely for entertainment. In Sangam literature, it is mentioned as 'Kudakoothu'. This dance has two divisions – one is “Aatta Karagam” and the other one is 'Sakthi Karagam'. This dance symbolizes merriment, happiness and fervour. The important musical instruments used in this dance are Melam, Nathaswaram, and Thavil. Acrobatics similar to circus are included - such as dancing on a rolling block of wood, up and down a ladder, threading a needle while bending backwards and so on.