Margam Kali

One of the folk art practiced by the Syrian Christians, Margam Kali means literally song of the path or solution. In a religious context it can be interpreted as the song that leads or shows the way to God. Margam Kali has been practiced since even before the Portuguese had come to Kerala. The origin of Margam Kali is attributed and influenced by the ‘Thiruvathira kali’ – practiced by Hindu women, Jewish wedding songs, ‘Sangam Kali’ of the Brahmins and ‘Yathra Kali’ of the Kerala Namboothiris. The attire of the artists in Margam Kali is the ‘Chattem Mundum’ – Chatta is the shirt type blouse, Mundu is the dhoti. A lamp is kept in the centre signifying Jesus Christ and the artist who are supposed to be the believers, dance around the lamp. There were 2 parts in Margam Kali. Vattakkali – round dance and Parichamuttu kali –dancing with the sword and the shield. Through ages it has been modified and now both are done separately.

The songs of the margam Kali used to describe the events in the life of the Apostle St. Thomas after he came to Kerala. There are different versions of the same. One version says he came to Malabar and started promoting Christianity. He converted many by advocating the beliefs of Christianity and performed many miracles. To further the cross he established seven and half churches throughout Kerala. And then he travelled to Tamilnadu and he continued his promotion of Christianity. While there he was accidently shot by a hunter who was aiming at a peacock.

Margam Kali
Margam Kali

The other version talks about how he was sold to Habban. Then he was ordered to build a palace for the King Chola.Thomas was also given the advance for building the Palace. But since Thomas had remorse at his own behavior he had wanted to do absolve himself so he asked an year’s time and the permission to go and spread the Lord’s word. Thomas travelled to China and Malacca for an year. He then returned but later he travelled to Malabar. During his travels through the Malabar coast he promoted Christianity. He performed many miracles and managed to convert many to Christianity. He established many crosses in various places in Kerala and established seven and half churches. Meanwhile King Chola wanted the Palace to be done. Thomas was called back and ordered to build it. Thomas refused and King Chola imprisoned him. During these events King Cholas brother died and later when he was resuscitated he told King Chola of the heavenly palace and its beauty. King Chola turned a believer. King Chola, his family, Habban all were baptized by Thomas

This enraged the Brahmins there and they forced Thomas to worship the Goddess Kali. When Thomas refused the groove caught fire and one of the enraged Brahmins threw the spear at Thomas killing him. King Chola took Thomas’s body and buried it in Mylapore.

Earlier the Margam Kali songs were describing events in St. Thomas lives, the different events in them, the miracles he performed, establishment of the seven and half churches, the mishap that caused his death. But now it has been reduced to 14 stanzas and it also might be other topics like worshiping Virgin Mary or other saints too. Parichamuttu kali is now a separate art form which is influenced by the Kalaripayattu. The attire of the Parichamuttu Kali is white loin cloth with red wrist-bands and they have the sword and the shield. The leader or Asan sings and the artists sing after him in chorus. Here too they perform around a lamp.

Parijamuttukali