Kummattikali is the famous colourful mask-dance of Kerala, particularly of South Malabar. During Onam, Kummattikali performers move from house to house collecting small gifts and entertaining people.
Most interesting facet of Kummattikali is the peculiar way in which Kummati performers clad themselves. They don heavily painted colourful wooden mask depicting faces of Krishna, Narada, Kiratha, Darika or hunters. Masks are made of saprophyte, jack fruit tree, Alstonia Scholaris, Hog Plum tree or Coral tree.
Dancers wear skirts woven out of plaited grass. Some performers cover their whole body with bunches of grass to have a bushy appearance. The resemblance is made more joyful with the ‘talla’ attached externally to the mask. Hence, there is the appearance of a toothless open mouth. Dancers hold and manipulate long sticks of residuary agricultural produce called ‘Kummattikali’. This item gave rise to the name of the dance. Also, this dance is related to the Shaiva mythology. ‘Thamma’ [an old woman] walks in front with the help of a stick. Thamma is the symbolic of mother of every being and everything.
Kummattikali rhythm is provided by vibrating the string of a bow like instrument called onavillud. Instrument is made of arecanut wood used for making the bow. The strings are beaten with a narrow bamboo stick.
Kummatti dancers are a sight to see. They move around from house to house collecting jaggery, rice, or small amounts of cash. Onlookers, especially children take great delight in their performance.
Themes of Kummattikali are mostly taken from the stories of Ramayana, and Darika Vadham. Also, stories from Shiva and folk tales like Manjan Nayare Pattu.
It may be noted that folk art of Kerala can be classified into two broad categories. These are ritualistic and non-ritualistic. Ritualistic can be further divided into Devotional and Magical Art Forms. Devotional are performed to please a particular God or Goddess. These devotional art forms include Theyyam, Thira, Poothamthira, Kanyarkali, Kummattikali and others.
Kummatti dances are more rampant in Trichur District, during Onam. Pristine or original form of Kummattikali can be seen in the Bhadrakali temple in Palghat district.