Poikkaal Kudhirai Aattam, or the false-legged horse dance, is one of the oldest and most popular folk dance forms of Tamil Nadu. Mentions of this dance form can be found in two ancient works of Tamil literature i.e., in the Tholkappiyam (2000 years old) and the Silappadhigaram (5th to 6th Century AD). It is believed that this dance form was introduced in Tamil Nadu, by the Maratha kings who ruled Thanjavur. The dance is also known by other names such as Puravai Aattam or Puravi Nattiyam (horse dance), Poi Kudhirai (false horse) and Marakkaalaadal (wooden leg dance).
Poikkaal Kudhirai Aattam is supposed to have been one of the eleven dances performed by Madhavi, one of the main characters in the Silappadhigaram. In one of the sections of the Tholkappiyam, when the heroine’s parents oppose their daughter’s marriage to her lover, he adorns himself in a horse-like structure, and expresses his dissent on the streets.
Legend also has it that Goddess Durga used to perform this dance. Once, the Durga’s enemies decided to exact revenge on the Goddess by disguising themselves as venomous snakes, scorpions etc., and planned to bite her when she danced. Being aware of their plans, Durga tied wooden pieces around her leg while she danced. Her heavy dance movements with the wooden pieces led to the death of her enemies, thus giving this dance form the name Marakkaalaadal, which was later renamed as Poikkaal Kudhirai Aattam.
This dance form is usually performed during festivals, in processions or during religious functions such as those for Ayyanar, the Hindu deity who protects villages. The dance is usually performed in pairs, where the dancers fit themselves inside the shell of a horse, at hip level. The horse shell is beautifully embellished with attractive designs, and is made of jute, cardboard, and paper to keep the shell light. Lots of glass work is included in the shell to reflect light and entice the audience. The dancers also attach wooden legs to their own legs. Thus the dancer’s legs become the horse’s legs, and the wooden legs sound like a horse’s hooves. The horse is also decorated with vibrant and colourful skirts that twirl beautifully as the dancers perform.
This dance form requires intensive training, especially to perform with the wooden legs, as these tend to be heavy and can restrain the dancers’ movements. Some performers do away with the wooden legs and dance barefoot, wearing only anklets.
One of the most common themes for this dance is the portrayal of kings and queens. Dancers usually brandish swords and whips as they perform. Sometimes, dancers form groups of eight or ten and perform in a circle or in a line. Dancers display heavy and exaggerated facial expressions and interact extensively with each other, by skillfully manoeuvring their false-legged horses, to convey a range of emotions.
The dance is usually accompanied by the Naiyandi Melam, a musical ensemble that often includes two nadhaswarams (a wind instrument), one shruthi petti (for scale), one thaalam (beat) and percussion instruments played with drum sticks such as tavil, pambai, urumi, kidumutti or sinukuchatti.
Such beautiful dance forms are keeping our ancient traditions and culture alive even today.
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“''Poikkaal Kuthirai Aattam'' of Tamil Nadu - This Folk Dance Needs Revival!!” Navrang India, navrangindia.blogspot.com/2020/05/poikkaal-kuthirai-aattam-of-tamil-nadu.html.
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The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Silappathikaram.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Nov. 2015, www.britannica.com/topic/Silappathikaram.
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