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Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar and his troupe performing Thoranayudham (part of Bhasa's play Abhiṣeka Nataka based on the epic Ramayana) Koodiyattam (1962, Chennai). It was the first ever Koodiyattam performance outside Kerala.
Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar and his troupe performing Thoranayudham (part of Bhasa's play Abhiṣeka Nataka based on the epic Ramayana) Koodiyattam (1962, Chennai). It was the first ever Koodiyattam performance outside Kerala.

Koodiyattam, also transliterated as Kutiyattam, is a traditional performing artform in the state of Kerala, India. It is a combination of ancient Sanskrit theatre with elements of Koothu, a Tamil/Malayalam performing art which is as old as Sangam era. It is officially recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

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  • ✪ Balivadham Koodiyattam - Part 1
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Koodiyattam Performance.

Koodiyattam (Kutiyattam), meaning "combined acting" in Malayalam and Tamil, combines Sanskrit theatre performance with elements of traditional Koothu. It is traditionally performed in temple theatres known as Koothambalams. It is the only surviving art form that uses drama from ancient Sanskrit theatre. It has a documented history of a thousand years in Kerala, but its origins are unknown. Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu were among the dramatized dance worship services in the temples of ancient India, particularly Kerala. Both Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu originated from ancient south Indian artform Koothu which is mentioned several times in ancient Sangam literature, and the epigraphs of the subsequent Pallava,Pandiyan, Chera, and Chola periods. Inscriptions related to Koothu can be seen in temples at Tanjore, Tiruvidaimaruthur, Vedaranyam, Tiruvarur, and Omampuliyur. They were treated as an integral part of worship services, alongside the singing of Tevaram and Prabandam hymns.

Ancient kings are amongst those listed as authors of works for these services. There is evidence of these across the ancient subcontinent during times of Cholas and Pallavas. A Pallava king called Rajasimha has been credited with authoring a play called kailasodharanam in Tamil, which has the topic of Ravana becoming subject to Siva's anger and being subdued mercilessly for this.

It is believed that Kulasekhara Varman Cheraman Perumal, an ancient king of Chera dynasty, who ruled from Mahodayapuram (modern Kodungallur), reformed Koodiyattam, introducing the local language for Vidusaka and structuring presentation of the play to well-defined units. He himself wrote two plays, Subhadradhananjayam and Tapatisamvarana and made arrangements for their presentation on stage with the help of a Brahmin friend called Tolan. These plays are still performed now. Apart from these, the plays traditionally presented include Ascaryacudamani of Saktibhadra, Kalyanasaugandhika of Nilakantha, Bhagavadajjuka of Bodhayana, Nagananda of Harsa, and many plays ascribed to Bhasa including Abhiseka and Pratima. The Kutiyattam performance was performed in specially designed temples called Koothambalams.

Instruments used

Mizhavu kept in mizhavana (a wooden box made especially to keep mizhavu).
Mizhavu kept in mizhavana (a wooden box made especially to keep mizhavu).

Traditionally, the main musical instruments used in Koodiyattam are mizhavu, kuzhitalam, edakka, kurumkuzhal, and sankhu. Mizhavu, the most prominent of these is a percussion instrument that is played by a person of the Ambalavas Nambiar caste, accompanied by Nangyaramma playing the kuzhithalam (a type of cymbal).

Performance style

Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar as Ravana in Kutiyattam.
Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar as Ravana in Kutiyattam.

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 or performing together, is thought to refer to the presence or more actors on stage who act in consonance with the beats of the mizhavu drummers. Alternatively, it may also be a reference to a common practice in Sanskrit drama where a single actor who has performed solo for several nights is joined by another.[1]

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. Koodiyattam performances are often lengthy and elaborate, ranging from 12 to 150 hours spread across several nights. A complete Koodiyattam performance consists of three parts. The first of these is the purappadu where an actor performs a verse along with the nritta aspect of dance. Following this is the nirvahanam where the actor, using abhinaya, presents the mood of the main character of the play. The nirvahanam, a retrospective, which takes the audience up to the point where the actual play begins. The final part of the performance is koodiyattam which is the play itself. While the first two parts are solo acts, Koodiyattam can have as many characters as are required to perform on the stage.[2]

The elders of the Chakyar community traditionally taught the artform to their youngsters. It was an artform performed only by Chakyars until the 1950s. In 1955 Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar performed Kutiyattam outside the temple for the first time.[3] For performing the art forms outside the temples he faced many problems from the hardline Chakyar community. In his own words:

My own people condemned my action (performing Koothu and Kutiyattam outside the precincts of the temples), Once, after I had given performances at Vaikkom, they even thought about excommunicating me.

I desired that this art should survive the test of time. That was precisely why I ventured outside the temple.[4]

In 1962, under the leadership of Dr. V. Raghavan, noted art and Sanskrit scholar, Sanskrit Ranga of Madras, invited Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar to perform Kutiyattam in Chennai. Thus for the first time in history Kutiyattam was performed outside Kerala.[5][6] They presented at Madras on three nights: Kutiyattam scenes from three plays Abhiṣeka,Subhadrādhanañjaya and Nāgānda.[7]

Koodiyattam Performance.
Koodiyattam face makeup

In early 1960s Maria Christoffer Byrski, a Polish student doing research in Indian theatres at Banaras Hindu University came to study Kootiyattam with Mani Madhava Chakyar and became the first non-Chakyar/nambiar to learn the art form. He stayed in Guru's home at Killikkurussimangalam and studied the art form in traditional Gurukula way.[citation needed]

Noted artists

Srigara Rasa-abhinaya of guru Nikhilesh.
Srigara Rasa-abhinaya of guru Nikhilesh.
Nayaka (Hero) King Udayana in Swapnavasavadattam Kutiyattam
Nayaka (Hero) King Udayana in Swapnavasavadattam Kutiyattam
Margi Madhu as Ravanan at Nepathya
Margi Madhu as Ravanan at Nepathya

A dying art form

Koodiyattam has traditionally been an exclusive art form performed in special venues called koothambalams in Hindu temples and access to these performances were highly restricted to only caste Hindus. Also, performances are lengthy, taking up to forty days to complete. The collapse of the feudal order in the nineteenth century in Kerala led to a curtailment in the patronage extended to Koodiyattam artistes and they faced serious financial difficulties. Following a revival in the early twentieth century, Koodiyattam is once again facing a lack of funding, leading to a severe crisis in the profession.[9] UNESCO has called for the creation of a network of Koodiyattam institutions and gurukalams to promote the transmission of the art form to future generations and for the development of new audiences besides fostering greater academic research in it. The Margi Theatre Group in Thiruvananthapuram is an organisation dedicated to the revival of Kathakali and Koodiyattom in Kerala.[10] Also Nepathya is an exclusive institution to promote Koodiyattam and related art forms working at Moozhikkulam.[11] The Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama, awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest award for performing artists, to Kutiyattam artists like, Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri (2007), Painkulam Raman Chakyar (2010) and Painkulam Damodara Chakyar (2012).[12]

Related literature and books

Nātyakalpadrumam the master treatise on all aspects of Kutiyattam written by Guru Mani Madhva Chakyar
Nātyakalpadrumam the master treatise on all aspects of Kutiyattam written by Guru Mani Madhva Chakyar
  • Natyakalpadruma (1975), a Kerala Sahitya Academy Award-winning book on Koodiyattam written by Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar, considered authoritative by scholars.[13]
  • The Nātya Shāstra, an ancient work of dramatic theory Bharata Muni describes the Sanskrit theatre of the Gupta Empire; Koodiyattam is believed to preserve some aspects of the performance style of that period.
  • Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikeshvara,another work of dramatic theory comparable to the Nātya Shāstra.
  • Farley Richmond, Kutiyattam: Sanskrit Theater of India (University of Michigan Press, 2002). CD-ROM featuring videos and text.
  • Rajendran C, "The Traditional Sanskrit Theatre of Kerala "(University of Calicut,1989)
  • Virginie Johan, « Kuttu-Kutiyattam : théâtres classiques du Kerala ». Revue d’histoire du théâtre 216, 2002-4: 365-382.
  • Virginie Johan, « Pour un théâtre des yeux : l’exemple indien ». Coulisses 33, 2006 : 259-274.

See also

Mattavilasam, the devotional ritualistic Kutiyattam performed at temples in northern Kerala like Kottiyoor. The artist is Mani Damodara Chakyar.
Mattavilasam, the devotional ritualistic Kutiyattam performed at temples in northern Kerala like Kottiyoor. The artist is Mani Damodara Chakyar.


  1. ^ Shulman, David. "Creating and Destroying the Universe in Twenty-Nine Nights". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  2. ^ "All at home". The Hindu, 13 July 2012.
  3. ^ * Bhargavinilayam, Das (1999), Mani Madhaveeyam, Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala, ISBN 81-86365-78-8, archived from the original on 15 February 2008
  4. ^ Mani Madhava Chakkyar: The Master at Work, K.N. Panikar, Sangeet Natak Akademi New Delhi, 1994
  5. ^ The Samskrita Ranga Annual, Samskrita Ranga, Madras, 1963, p. 89
  6. ^ Venkatarama Raghavan, A. L. Mudaliar (1968), Bibliography of the Books, Papers & Other Contributions of Dr. V. Raghavan, New Order Book Co., India, p. 370
  7. ^ The Samskrita Ranga Annual, Samskrita Ranga, Madras, 1967, p. 77
  8. ^ Mani Madhava Chakkyar: The Master at Work (English film), Kavalam N. Panikar, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, 1994.
  9. ^ "Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre".
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "SNA: List of Akademi Awardees". Sangeet Natak Akademi Official website. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016.
  13. ^ Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy and Venkateswarier Subramaniam, "The Sacred and the Secular in India's Performing Arts: Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Centenary Essays"(1980), Ashish Publishers, p. 150.

External links

This page was last edited on 4 January 2020, at 16:05
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