Margam Kali (Maargamkali) is one of the ancient round group dance of Kerala practiced by Saint Thomas Christians. It is difficult to trace the exact origin of the dance form and the compilation of the lyrics, but the dance form was practiced by the Saint Thomas Christians before the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in Kerala. There are several different opinions on the origin of Margamkali. Two are:
- It is derived from the early forms of thiruvathira kali
- It is derived from Sangam kali and the martial arts dance form parichamuttu kali.
"Margam" means path or way or solution in Malayalam, but in the religious context it is known as the path to attain salvation. The process of conversion to Christianity was known as "Margam Koodal" until recently in Kerala.
A dozen dancers sing and dance clapping around a lighted lamp ("nilavilakku") wearing the traditional white dhoti ("mundu") and blouse ("chatta"). The lamp represents Christ and the performers his disciples. The performance is usually held in two parts ("padham") and begins with songs and dances narrating the life of St.Thomas, the apostle. It then takes a striking turn with a martial play of artificial swords and shields. Margamkali does not use any instruments other than two small palm size cymbals played by the same person who sings the song. Though the art form was developed in the 16th century during the Portuguese trade and missionary era, the content of the songs date much before the Portuguese invasion. In the early days only men performed Margom Kali. Today women also perform the custom.
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