India is a country known for its vivid diversity. Although there are stereotypes about gender, the economy, and religion, the Indian culture actually features many traditions of empowerment, especially for women. One of the most empowering practices is the kaikottikali dance, which is native to the south Indian state of Kerala. This dance is performed by women during the festival season of Onam. It symbolizes beauty, happiness, grace, and elegance, also known as “iasya.” Performed by all ages, from small girls to elderly women, the kaikottikali dance is a celebration of the female presence.
In its true liberating fashion, the kaikottikali dance is becoming a more inclusive practice representative of the community’s demographic. On February 2nd, 2015 the kaikottikali dance gained global attention when a small town in Kerala set the Guinness World Record for the largest organized kaikottikali dance in history, with 5,211 women participating in the dance. Their 10-month journey, however, to setting that record is one of breaking social, economic, and religious boundaries.
In spite of the female predominance in the dance, men and women worked hand in hand to achieve the world record. In addition to the thousands of women dancers, Idavela Babu (male actor and organizer), Jitha Binoy (female choreographer), and various men and women on the Thanima committee (the cultural arts organization which sponsored the event) worked together to orchestrate this amazing feat. Thomas Unniyadan, Kerala Congress leader and key organizer of the event, said it has “helped in showcasing the cultural unity that is there in Kerala.”
Although originally a Hindu tradition, the dance has taken a more inclusive form and now acts as a cultural symbol to all Keralites, regardless of religion. The record-breaking kaikottikali dance even took place on the grounds of Christ College, a Christian institution. It further displayed India’s beautiful diversity in its performers, who varied in age, religion, and economic backgrounds.
The kaikottikali dance is also a symbol of equality. The use of the same off-white and gold garment along with the emphasis on precise synchronization demonstrates the importance of unity. The sight of more than 5,000 women of various backgrounds moving in perfect time and wearing matching outfits created an especially powerful message of equality.
The success of this record-breaking dance is a product of the combined efforts of men and women in spite of their differences. From tradition to the present, the kaikottikali dance is a testament to the empowering unity of south Indian society.
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