Kalaimamani T.A.R Nadi Rao, now 74 years old, is one of the greatest living exponents of Poikkal Kuthirai (literally: false-legged horse). This famous Tamil folk dance originated in Maharashtra. Nadi Rao resides in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, and performs together with his wife Kamachi, who is now 67.

Traditionally performed in the king’s court, Poikkal dancers also preceded the local deity during temple processions. In modern times, it is performed at weddings and official functions. In Thanjavur, the dancers are of Maratha descent. They speak Marathi at home, and worship Tuljabhavani, a goddess whose main temple is located in Osmanabad, Maharashtra.

Watch video: In Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, Poikkal dancers Nadi Rao and Kamachi

Poikkal Kuthirai is accompanied by the Kundala vadhyam or Gondal drums, native to the state of Maharashtra. The dance was in great demand until about 20 years ago. The artists thrived and so did the instrumentalists. Today, the art form is in decline and is no longer viable as a full-time occupation. Nadi Rao and his family also farm to supplement their income.

Editing by M. Arun Ponraj,  video editor, animator and cinematographer.

Camera by Roy Benadict Naveen, photographer, cinematographer and filmmaker.

Aparna Karthikeyan

Aparna Karthikeyan is an independent journalist, author and Senior Fellow, PARI. Her non-fiction book 'Nine Rupees an Hour' documents the disappearing livelihoods of Tamil Nadu. She has written five books for children. Aparna lives in Chennai with her family and dogs.

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