Ivarkali is a traditional folk art form staged in different parts of Kerala especially in Thrissur and Palakkad districts. Also known by the names Aivarnatakam, Pandavarkali, Thattinmelkali, Kannilkuthikali is played by Ikkudikammalar people belonging to the Vishwakarma community.
The Vishwakarmas celebrate the play in eighteen and a half sacred groves (pathinettara kaavu) on Bharani asterism during the Malayalam month of Kumbham. There are specially made grounds / floors in temples for presenting Ivarkali. In some other places, wooden planks are laid on the floor for the performance. A pandal (decorated tent) is raised and is decorated with tender palm leaves.
The play is performed standing before a Nilavilakku (traditional lamp). The Asan would recite the stuthigeetham (prayer song) and he will leads the group in singing. The other players would repeat it. Dance steps would follow the songs and is performed in three stages vattakali, parichakali and kolkali. Sword and shield are used in Parichakali. The sword and shield are made of wood. In Kolkali, wielding a small stick, the players make dance steps.
The steps would be in slow tempo and fast-paced. The play which begins in the morning comes to an end by afternoon. The play which is not associated with Bharani celebrations will be staged at dusk. The accompanying instruments of Ivarkali are kuzhithalam and ponthi or kolmani.
The songs for Ivarkali will say about how Lord Krishna taught Pandavas (the five brothers from the Indian epic Mahabharata) Ivarkali. Most of the songs are in praise of Lord Krishna. As the songs are about the five Pandavas, some believed that the play got its name ‘Ivarkali’ from the Pancha Pandavas.