Kutiyattam

DESCRIPTION

Koodiyattam [kutiyattam]: The word “koodiyattam” is derived from the Sanskrit word Kurd, meaning "to play," or "combined acting," is a form of sacred Sanskrit Theatre performed in Sanskrit language or an early form of Prakrit, presented in the traditional style in temple theatres of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is the only surviving specimen of the ancient Sanskrit theatre. It is believed to be 2000 years old making it the oldest living theater tradition in the world. It is officially recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Koodiyattam blends ritual, sacred traditional precepts, and rehearsed elements with creative improvisation. Complicated gesture language, chanting, and exaggerated expressions of the face and eyes are complemented by elaborate headdresses and makeup. It has an attested history of a thousand years in Kerala, but its origin and evolution are shrouded in mystery. The Kutiyattam performance was performed in specially designed temples called koothambalams.

This theater form is believed to have been introduced into India by the Aryans. King Kulasekhara Varma Cheraman Perumal, who ruled over Kerala from 1090 to 1102, reformed Koodiyattam into its present form, and his Aattaprakaram (Actor's Manual) is considered the most authoritative publication on Koodiyattam. Kutiyattam and chakyar koothu were among the dramatized dance worship services in temples of ancient India

Traditionally, Koodiyattam has been performed by Chakyars (a subcaste of Kerala Hindus) and by Nangyaramma (women of the Ambalavasi Nambiar caste). The name Koodiyattam (meaning "playing together") suggests a combined performance of Chakyar and Nangyar. The main actor is a Chakyar who performs the ritualistic Koothu and Koodiyattam inside the temple or in the Koothambalam. Chakyar women, Illotammas, are not allowed to participate. Instead, the female roles are played by Nangyaramma.


KOOTHAMBALAM (Temple theaters”)

Koothambalam (“temple theaters”), special theater halls for Koothu and Koodiyattam performances, were constructed on temple grounds according to the specifications of Bharata Muni’s N?tyas?stra and considered to be as sacred as the temple sanctum itself. During a performance, the stage is decorated with fruit-bearing plantains and bunches of coconuts, and festooned with fronds of the coconut palm. Famous Temples with Koothambalams include the Guruvayur Temple, Vadakkumnathan Temple, and the Koodalmanickyam Temple.


SACRED DANCE

Koodiyattam was traditionally performed as a religious ritual in the Hindu temples of Kerala. Its precursor is thought to be Chakyar Koothu, a narrative monologue performed in original Sanskrit with interpretations in refined Malayalam language, combining stories from Hindu epics (like Ramayana and Mahabharata) and Puranas with gossip and commentary on local events.

The name Koodiyattam ("playing together") suggests a combined performance of Chakyar and Nangyar. Chakyars, said to be of Aryan origin, are Brahmins; having mixed with Namboothiris, they are elite temple servants associated with the priestly caste. Nambiars, members of the local matrilineal society, are traditionally Sanskrit scholars and academics.


THE PLAYS

Koodiyattam repertory includes plays based on the Hindu epics, and performances are intended to assist the spiritual advancement of those who watch them, both by providing education about the Vedas, the structure of the universe, the nature of good and evil, and the lives of deities and heroes; and by causing the audience to reflect on their own emotions and experiences.


MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

MIZHAVU: Mizhavu kept in mizhavana (wooden box made especially to keep mizhavu). Mizhavu, a large percussion (chief musical) instrument played by a person of the Ambalavasi Nambiar caste, accompanied by Nangyaramma (women of the Nambiar caste) playing the kuzhithalam (a type of cymbal). Drums, which have important symbolic significance, set the tempo and the mood, and heighten the drama.

EDAKKA: It is an hour glass shaped drum, traditionally used as a part of the Panchavadyam, Played with a stick, this drum made with wood is considered to be a very auspicious instrument (in Malayalam - Devavadyam).

KUZHITHALAM: An ancient traditional percussion instrument , a pair of small hand cymbals. Usually made of bronze, brass, copper zinc or Bell metal and connected with a copper cord which passes through holes in their center. They produce a rhythmic tinkling sound when struck together.


PERFORMANCE

The performances of a drama usually last several days and the enacting in the original form of a single act may even take up to 41 days.The tradition was kept alive by the Chakyar community.

The first day may have the form of a sacrificial offering to the deity with initial invocatory rituals followed by preliminaries like certain abstract cadence of movement performed behind a curtain and without the audience seeing any acting at all.

In the next phase the character introduces himself by presenting his personal history including perhaps his past life. The Chakyar actor has almost full freedom to choose which legends associated with the character he wishes to emphasize and thus becomes an important interpreter of his role . The complete performance of the drama - from beginning to end - is performed on the last day.

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