Kalamezhuthu, prominently found in South Kerala, is an unique three dimensional traditional art. Kalamezhuthu (Kalam Ezhuthu) which translates to drawing of a ‘Kalam’ is done as an offering in worship of Devi, Naga, Sastha etc. It is a very calculated art in which not only the form that is drawn but also the lines, the calculations, dimensions, the colours used, and even the amount of the coloured powders used are all precise as per the occasion. The coloured powders used are all organic and traditional colours. The basic colours are five: the white colour is rice powder, yellow from turmeric, black from the charcoal of rice husk, green from leaves and red one gets when turmeric is mixed with lime. These colours are mixed and matched to form different shades and hues which makes the drawing very vibrant and alive. The process of drawing the Kalam is a sight to watch. The artist begins by drawing the centre line and he develops picture patch by patch outwards. Some variations of this art are found in tantric rituals too.
Traditionally Kurups are in-charge of the Kalamezhuthu. Legend varies as to the birth of this amazing art form. One version says that Murugan, son of Lord Shiva drew it first, a fierce form of Shakthi. Another legend tells about Kali the destroyer of the Asura brothers Dharukan and Dhanavendran. The Asuras underwent extreme penances and were granted the boon that they wouldn’t be vanquished by any man and also that every drop of blood spilt on earth will give birth to hundreds of further Asuras. Emboldened by these wishes they wrecked havoc in all the three worlds. When this was communicated to Lord Shiva he opened his third eye and created the fierce ‘Bhadrakali’ an incarnation of Sathidevi. Kali with her army went and fought the Asuras.
Since she was a woman she could kill them and whenever the Asura’s blood was split she drank it before it fell to the earth. Thus she vanquished them. Narada went to Kailas, the abode of Lord Shiva and recounted the victorious battle between Kali and the Asuras. While describing he drew her terrifying form to illustrate the events and thus the Kalamezhuthu was born.
Kalamezhuthu is traditionally done by the Kurup family. The Velichapad – a priest who is believed can be possessed by the divine spirit, also plays an important part in the Kalamezhuthu. On the day the offering is scheduled the venue is readied by the Kurup by making the Koora (roof) for the Kalam(drawing) and Pattu (song). The Mandapam / canopy is built and decorated with flowers and leaves. After this the Kalam is drawn. It takes hours to complete the Kalam and is done very meticulously by the artist. The vibrant Kalam made with the basic colours and its combinations comes alive in the light of the lamps.
The neighbourhood is informed of the Kalamezhuthu by the Sandhya Pattu – song at dusk. The traditional instruments – predominantly percussion, are used in this performance The deity and Velichapad are welcomed to the venue in a procession and traditional song called Mullakkan Pattu by the Kurup The Velichapad also known as Komaram does the Kalapradhakshinam / Kalam Pradaksinam – circling the Kalam with rhythmic steps in tune to the beats by the Marar on the traditional instruments which are used specially in this occasion. They are Edam Thala (Drum’s-left side), Elathaalam (cymbals), Kombu, Kuzhal (trumpet).
After the Kalapradhakshinam the Komaram does the Pooja to sanctify and bring in the divine presence to the venue. Special songs are sung to welcome the deity to the Mandapam. The Kurup does the Thiriuzhichal / Thiri Uzhichal – removing negative vibes with lighted wicks. Now the Velichapad does Nalikarameru / Nalikeram Eru (throwing coconuts) as promised in the offering. Kalapattu or Kalam Pattu – vibrant and mesmerizing song of the Kalam starts and the Velichapad does the Kalathylaattam / Kalathil Attam – dancing in the Kalam. He simultaneously erases the Kalam and this is called Kalam Maykal / Kalamaykal. And this denotes the Kalasam- climax of the Kalamezhuthu. To denote the culmination of the ritual the Kurup removes the Koora – roof and this part is called Koora Vallikal. The Kalamezhuthu ritual may go on for days and this Mandapam is removed only at the end of the ritual.