Poorakkali was a ritual dance performed by men during the nine day Pooram festival in Bhagavathy temples across the erstwhile state of Kolathunadu (northern Kerala).
The festival, to propitiate Kamadeva ( the god of love), begins with the Karthika asterism and concludes on the Pooram asterism of the Malayalam month of Meenam (Pisces). Performed by a group of young men in loin clothes, this circular dance around a huge multi-decked wick lamp or nilavilakku involves a lot of martial skills and masculine movements.
There are no singers or orchestra accompanying the performance. The dancers themselves sing and keep rhythm by movements of the foot and clapping of hands. The songs are based on mythology. Songs in praise of Goddess Saraswathy (goddess of learning and art) and Lord Ganapathy (the elephant headed god) are also sung. The dance begins with systematic rituals after an invocation.
Usually the dancers observe a month of abstinence and strenuous practice before the performance. A dance form on the verge of extinction, efforts are on by the government to keep Poorakkali alive.
Maruthukali, a sort of competition, also forms a part of Poorakkali. This includes scholarly debates on grammar, literature and mythology. Maruthukali is led by two Panikkars (eminent Poorakkali artistes) who are well versed in mythology, grammar and music.