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Thottam Pattu – History – Ritual – Story – Importance Of Thottam Songs In Kerala

The word Thottam means instinct or something which forms in the mind and is a colloquial form of stotram or hymn. All Thottam Pattu are sung in praise of Goddess Kali. The Thottam Pattu (songs) are sung by a specific section of people in Kerala.

Set to meter, Thottam songs have the quality of spontaneity. Most of the them have the quality of free and flowing rhythm. A large number of Thottam pattu are available in Malayalam and the singers of this type of songs are found throughout Kerala.

Thottam are one of the best devotional folk songs in Malayalam. They have a very simple and sweet diction.

From their language, it is clear that these songs originated in the 13th and 14th century AD. These songs are usually not available in written or printed form. Most of the practitioners of Thottam believed that it was a sin to print or record them in any form. The devotees of the Goddess sing them in ecstasy. In some cases they sing with the accompaniment of an instrument for rhythm.

Thottam Pattu which are prevalent in the southern part of Kerala are based on the Kannaki legend but with more Tamil words. The Thottam that originated in other parts of Kerala are based on the Darika Kali story.

There are many versions available for one story in Thottam. The best example of this is the Manimarkatottam and Kannakitottam, sung by the members of the Mannar and Pulaya communities. In one Thottam, Manimarka was born in vaishya caste. She was married to Palaka. Manimarka gave her gold anklets to her husband to sell in the market. Palaka was killed by the Pandya king on the advice of a cunning goldsmith. By the grace of Goddess Kali, Manimarka reached Madurai and killed the Pandya king with the sword that was given to her by Kali. The Goddess gave life to her husband, too. She killed the goldsmith also. The caste of the main characters and the method of avenging changes from community to community.

Apart from glorifying Kali, and other deities like Ganapati, there are Thottams portraying social life of Kerala too. In Kanniyar Kali, in a ritual to Goddess Kali in Palakkad District, we learn about the inhuman treatment meted out to the poor.

Prose varieties of thottam are also available. Most of them are the creation of ritualistic singers. In these thottams, the epic themes are frequently recreated with local color and imagination. The best example is the one that deal with the birth of Ganapati. In this story, Ganapati is born to a local girl.

Some of the ritualistic dance performances associated with Kali worship also have thottams. Before the performance or during a performance, to awaken the deity or for the invocation of the deity, songs are sung. In Kallampattu, Theyyam, Thiyyattu and Mudiyettu performance, these types of thottams are available. The entire text for the presentation of the confrontation between Kali and her demon rival, Darika, is also known as toam.

The Ritual Art of Teyyam and Bhutaradhane (1996) - K Sita Nambiyar – Indira Gandhi National Center For The Arts
Keralathile Kaliseva (1948) C A Menon – University Of Madras
Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume X page 553 – 554 - IHRF