Thappattam is a unique form of folk dance that is performed with the thappu, a drum that is used by the suppressed Dalit class people of Tamil Nadu. Thappattam is supposed to be the most vibrant and attractive form of dance in the state. The rhythm and drumbeats vary and the drums make different sounds during the festivals as well as during burial ceremonies. Thappattam has sincerely gained much attention with the passage of time and it is being used by modern theatre practitioners in social festivals, educational institutions, formative dance, cultural nights, and many other programs.
History of Thappattam
Thappattam was called paraiattam in the ancient Sangam Literature of Tamil Nadu. The word parai refers to the thappu, a drum used in olden days for the declaration and the announcement of the messages of the Chola kings and Pandya kings to the public.
Parai thrived to be one of the percussion instruments which were mainly used for worship through penances. It was declared by both the Saivites (followers of Lord Shiva) and the Vaishnavites (followers of Lord Vishnu) during the Bhakti cult. The famous work of Tamil Literature Silapathigaaram mentions parai and its striking rhythm. Shri Andal, who is considered to be the counterpart of Meera, refers to parai in many stanzas of her literary work Thirupavai.
Thappattam is a form of folk dance which is accompanied by compelling music. Myth has it that among the traditional instruments, the thappu was the first instrument to be developed by the Tamilian. It was used initially by ancient Tamilians for rescuing themselves from animal attacks.
Thappattam has the uniqueness of being a dance form with a person who acts both as the dancer as well as the instrumentalist. These performances are offered during Temple Festivals and other functions. The performances last for many hours when performed in temples. Men wear outfits like dhoti, whereas the women wear sarees, and they have light make-up over their faces. The performers dance in unison in an effortless fashion, changing their movements according to the drumbeats.
A fear of extinction of this art remained because of casteism prevalent amongst the populace. However, thappattam has gained more popularity recently due to Chennai Sangamam cultural festival organized in the Tamil Nadu state capital of Chennai. Artists from numerous parts of the state provide colourful entries that project the traditional dance, culture, and arts of their own region.
Different art forms such as thappattam, poikkal kuthirai aatam, karagattam, puliattam, kalaripayitru, mayilattam, and oilaattam have been performed in beaches, streets, and open parts of the city of Chennai - attracting crowds and spreading the cultural essence. Other events such as martial arts, classical dance, classical music, drama/theatre, and street plays are also performed along with the folk music and dance.
On the occasion of Chithirai Thirunal, the students of Tamil University performed thappattam projecting the protection of natural resources and the fruitfulness and fecundity of the earth.