Kolkali is a folk art performed in north Kerala. Usually, there are about 16 performers on stage who move about in a circle, striking small sticks and keeping rhythm with special steps. The circle expands and contracts as the dance progresses. Here, one can see two groups of players, one inside and the other outside. As they keep changing positions, this is termed as ‘Kolkali’. Even then, the players come back to their original positions.
The pitch of the music rises and the dance reaches its climax. Akin to Poorakali, Kolkali has also drawn elements from Kalaripayattu. The body postures, choreography and foot work are very similar to that of Kalaripayattu. The Vandanam, Kalithozhal and Chinthu are found in Poorakali also.
Kolkali begins with Vandanakali. Subramanian and Ganapathy are praised. This is followed by other types of dances in different tempos. It is observed that Kolkali blends rhythms. The kolkali songs are mixed with devotional stories describing regional Gods.
Kolkali’s origins can be traced to the Hindu temples. The Muslim community has also rendered invaluable contribution to this folk art.
Payyannur in Kannur district occupies a prominent place in Kolkali. Anidil Raman Ezhuthachan of Payyannur has written a lot of devotional songs for Kolkali. One can see several groups of enthusiastic youth of Payyannur and neighbouring areas performing Kolkali. In the past, women took active part in Kolkali. The women’s playing was referred to as Kolattam. In Kolattam, the emphasis was on dance steps. Though rare, women’s groups do exist.