Sarpam Thullal is performed in snake shrines known as `Kavu` in Kerala
in order to please snakes. This is an offering in order to secure family wealth and happiness. Sarpam Thullal is performed by members of a community known as Pulluvar. Pulluvan draws a kolam with two or more twining snakes in the courtyard. A traditional lamp and a nirapara are placed in front of the kalam. Thereafter the snake idol is brought out from the Kavu in the form of thalapoli that is accompanied by panchavadyam.
Girls with their hair pleated up like the hoods of snakes and participate in this procession. The idol is placed in the kolam and the priest performs ritual offerings. The girls sit in two rows on the side of the kolam. The priest dances round the kolam to the beat of para and elathalam. Pulluvan and pulluvathi sing special devotional songs to the tune and rhythm by nanduni and pulluvankudam. As the song gathers thrust the girls begin to dance and ascending in tempo steadily. Slowly they explode into a violent frenzy of rhythmic fervour.
Sarpam thullal is an act where the dancer becomes the dance and the musician becomes the music. In Kerala snake worship is given importance. Kulam-kavu model is one of the most admired eco-friendly models of habitat for snakes as it supports the plants and trees which provide oxygen. It also supports the water bodies which purifies the habitat.
Sarpam thullal is done to bring off-springs. Participants include wide range of people who belong to different castes and backgrounds. This art is as old as the snake worship practice in India. The ritual has evolved but has not changed much. Sarpam Thullal is done after the fulfilment of a vow. It is done mostly done by couples who are deprived of an offspring. Today it is conducted in Nair Tharavads.
Generally it is the family astrologer who initiates the process. This is conducted every year or once in six years. Once the date is finalized the Pulluvan and Pulluvathy are called upon. They create the aesthetic requirements of the Sarpam Thullal. It is a practice to conduct it thrice a day.
The family who conducts this goes through a rigorous fast. They abstain from things like having non-vegetarian food and so on. A floral decoration is created by them known as Nagakalam. There are various types of Nagakalams: Bhasma Kalam (Kalam made of just ash powder) and Varna Podi Kalam. The kalam drawn on the final ritual is called Astha Naga Kalam. The females who would sit beside the Kalam wear mundu and blouse for the ritual. They are given arecanut flowers. Pulluvan starts singing and playing the one string violin like instrument and pulluvathy sings along and plays the kudam. Initially they sing songs in praise of Lord Ganesha
that is followed by other gods. Later the songs are dedicated to Serpent gods.
Sarpam Thullal however has lost the popularity that it once enjoyed as it has become an expensive affair and most of the families are shying away from the ritual.