Pariyakali: Stylized Mock-Combat

A stylized mock-combat between two opponents armed with toorae kol, long, flexible canes and woven rattan shields, pariyakali is part of the dances conducted in the days that follow the ceremonial harvesting of the rice crop, puthari celebrations . The dances are held at the village mand (open community space). Pariyakali harks back to the days when war was a constant reality in Kodava life and men were expected to display their fitness and prowess on many social occasions. The canes and shields are stored with the appointed pariyakali deva takkas (formally appointed moderators and referees) in their homes, and they are charged with the responsibility of bringing them to the mand at the time of the puthari dances. In other parts of Kodagu, the canes and ceremonial objects used at puthari dances are stored at a local shrine and retrieved for use at the time of the harvest dances. The mand is a scared space which is approached without footwear, and the canes and shields are placed at the foot of a tree that shelters a deity or a small shrine.

The men approach the tree together, and offering their respects and prayers, pick up the shields and canes. A long call from the kombe (large, curved brass horn) announces their approach, and to steady drumbeats from the parae (large drum) which plays the pariya kott, a beat specific to the mock-combat, they begin circling each other with rhythmic steps that are dance-like, but nevertheless challenging.  The first feints build up into strikes below the knees as per the rules of pariyakali, while the pariyakali deva takkas look on to make sure there is fair play. In this instance, Kundhira and Kuppachira okkas (patrilineal descent group) hold the position.

If the rules are broken, a fine of aruvadnuppadthombad pana (symbolic figures, 60-30-90) is imposed on the offender.  Although pariyakali appears staged, there are occasions when emotions run high and fights break out and the takkas have to intervene. With a large audience watching, the opponents are obliged to maintain their prestige. Each round of pariyakali ends with both men embracing each other in the spirit of puthari, a time when all enmities, quarrels and feuds are put aside and the spirit of community prevails.

The living tradition of pariyakali was recorded at Poovmale Mand on 11th December 2022.