Karakam is a folk art developed along with the cult of Mariamman. It is
of two varieties- the religious and the professional.
The religious type is called Sakti Karakam. A small pot
is filled with water and sealed with a coconut. Flower wreaths decorate
it and a lime fruit is placed at the top of the Karakam. The temple priest
or his nominee carries it with great ceremony and sentimental attachment
since this is one of their hereditary privileges.
professional type is known as Attak Karakam and is performed anywhere
by anyone with necessary practice and skill. It is one of the Tamil Nadu's
regular showpieces at the republic day floats in New Delhi every year.
The Attak Karakam or balancing of the pot on the head
is accompanied by peculiar musical instruments called Pampadi, Urumi,
Thavil, Nadaswaram and Thamukku which are among the distinctive components
of Tamil music. The Karakam dancers wear a close fitting dress and look
like warriors. They remind one of the Kudak-Koothu dancers described in
the literary work, Chilappadikaram.
The word Karakam denotes a pot or kumbham filled
with sacred water for purificatory purposes. During ordinary rituals all
the seas of Varuna, the Lord of rains and the seven sacred rivers are
supposed to be attracted and confined in the Karakam and released only
when the final ablution is performed and the water is poured or sprinkled
over the heads of the worshippers.
In Tirunelveli district, Karakam is also called Amman
Kondadi or a way of eliciting the blessing of the goddess.
The Karakam dancer smears his bare body with holy ash
and sandal paste and wears a short skirt. On his head, he balances a pot
filled with uncooked rice, surmounted by a tall conical bamboo frame,
covered with flowers. He starts from a holy spot or a square and goes
to the temple in a procession. Dancing with quick steps, he brandishes
a sword or a staff while two people beat the drum and blow on a
long pipe. From a slow tempo, the dance rises to delirious frenzy, when
the dancer becomes oblivious of himself. Though he tumbles and leaps,
he somehow retains the pot on his head without touching it. Background
music is provided by Nayyandi Melam.