The dancers move in a circular pattern with very attractive steps, accompanied by rhythmic clapping of the hands, to the tune of the Thiruvathira pattu (song). One of the performers sings the first line of the Thiruvathira pattu while the rest repeat it in chorus. The songs are often narrations from the folk epics.
Thiruvathirakali is an important traditional dance of Kerala which is usually performed in popular festivals such as Onam and Vishu. Thiruvathirakali is a dance performed by women, in order to attain everlasting marital bliss, on Thiruvathira day in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December-January).
The dance is a celebration of marital fidelity and the female energy, for this is what brought Kamadeva (the god of love) back to life after he was reduced to ashes by the ire of Lord Siva. The sinuous movements executed by a group of dancers around a nilavilakku (brass lamp), embody "lasya" or the amorous charm and grace of the feminine.
In Kerala, the festival of Thiruvathira is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Shiva. Thiruvathira is the nakshatra or 'star' of Lord Shiva as per the Malayalam calendar. Another belief is that the festival commemorates the death of Kamadeva, the Hindu god of Love. It is believed that on this day, the Goddess Parvathi finally met Lord Shiva after her long penance and Lord Shiva took her as a saha-dharma chaarini (equal partner). Both Parvathi and Shiva present this ideal to devotees in the form of Ardha-Nareeshawara (half male, half female form).