Onathallu is a martial art form of central Kerala, especially in the banks of the river Nila. It started as an entertainment art (kayyamkali) for the upper cast people, especially the rulers. It is also being known as ‘kayyamkali’, it means a martial exercise using hands. It’s being performed during the festive occasions to show the strength of a group or villages. Initially it started as martial exercise for the soldiers who were part of the military troupe of local landlord or king. Earlier during the initial days, it was practiced in the courtyards of old ‘tharavad’ (Big house where the masters used to live). Then, slowly it started treating it as a local festival, involving local people to make it as a joint celebration
Lots of thought has gone into it and slowly it started getting a structured and a systematic approach to perform. However only a very few artists are available now. Only trained resources are allowed to participate since it requires martial performance otherwise it may cause risk to others. The performers should have the characteristics that require very high self control and ability to hold the impressions of the audience. Using of personal revenge is not allowed in this game and the performers are supposed to follow the strict instructions and regulations of the game. If in case somebody fails in that, they would be left out from the game.
A person called ‘Chayikkaran’ (Referee) controls the entire show. He has all the rights to control and take decision of the game. Traditionally, aged and experienced players would acts as Chayikkaran. As per Vappinu, the Chayikkaran should know some immediate treatments incase of any emergency. ‘Chayikkaran’ would be controlling the entire show with strict involvement and control to avoid any personal temptation to get into quarrel. The art form has taken some steps or methods from the ancient martial art form called Kalari Payattu (A unique martial art form famous in across Kerala, especially the northern region of Kerala, Vadakkanadan Kalari).
The performers have to follow certain rules. They are not allowed to use their legs nor hit or kick or use nail while performing. They should perform the art form in the defined boundary, (a space identified for the performance). If someone goes out of the boundary, they will be out from the game. The artists are not allowed to make lesion in anyone’s body
Normally it takes three to four years to become a good performer and it also depends on the speed and idea of the performer like how fast he can make the movements and how smart he is to block the hand movements of the opponent. During the initial years of the performer’s career, they will be taking opponent from the same team or the master itself will act as his opponent. Based on the maturity of the performer, they are allowed to identify opponent from other teams. Asans (Masters) would be suffering lots of pain to teach a new comer and he has to show his body to learn the art of kayyamkali. This is not a community based art form as the performers can be seen from different communities. This art acts as a best example to all the communities to live in harmony.
During the performances, they will be using the following vaitharies ( ballads – hymns ) : Dha, Aytha, Ayyathada etc. They would be following some leg movements to simplify the overall movements of the body. When they move the left leg, the entire body weight would be on the right leg that helps them to move the left leg very easily. Same way it repeats with other leg also. Before they start the performance, they would take blessings from the masters and chayikkarans. When both the hands are put up, the performance is started. As a starting signal either of the performer chants the vaithaires