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Art & Culture

Theatre

Culturally, Kerala presents a pageant not found anywhere else in India. The famous pantomime dance-drama, Kathakali, the Sopana style of music, the contributions of Swathi Thirunal and Raja Ravi Varma in the realms of music and painting respectively are some of Kerala's unique contributions which have enriched the cultural heritage of India.

Kuthu and Kudiyattom are the earliest of the theatrical arts of Kerala. The Tamil epic Silappathikaram refers to the performance of 'Kuthu' in the theatre hall by a Kutta Sakkaiyan of Paraiyur in order to entertain the Chera king Senkuttuvan and his queen. This is clear evidence of the antiquity of 'Kuthu' as an art form. 'Kuthu' is a mono act in which a single actor, the Chakiar, acts the role of all the characters to the accompaniment of mizhavu (a close - necked copper metal drum) played by the Nambiar and cymbals played by the Nangiar (Woman of the Nambiar community). The Chakiar expounds puranic stories punctuating his narration with illustrations from contemporary life.

He enjoys unfettered privilege to crack jokes even at the expense of the dignitaries present in the audience and the latter have no right to report. Kudiyattam is a theatrical art which presents a full-fledged drama or select portions thereof. More than two or three actors appear on the stage at the same time as in a modern drama. The Chakiar performs the role of the male characters and the Nangiar that of the female characters. The Nangiars also sound the cymbals and recite the Sanskrit verses which the Chakiar enacts. A feature of Kudiyattam is that there is a Vidushaka or clown who recites the Malayalam translation of every Sanskrit verse enacted by the Chakiar. The Attaprakarams and Kramadipika of poet Tolan give detailed guidance in regard to the mode of acting.

Kudiyattam is not today such a popular art as Kathakali and it is performed only in a few major temples like Irinjalakuda, Perumanam, Kottiyur etc. Its failure to reform itself in response to the needs of changing times is responsible for the decline in its popularity as a performing art. Nevertheless, the contribution of Kudiyattam to the evolution of the Kerala stage is substantial. It is performed in temples within multi-pillared theatres called Kuthambalams built by expert architects according to the norms laid down in Bharatamuni's Natyasastra. The Kuthambalam is a typical specimen of Kerala architecture. It is also a store - house of the finest sculptures, particularity wood carvings. The ceiling of the Kuthambalam is a typical specimen of Kerala architecture. It is also a store - house of the finest sculptures, particularly wood carvings and paintings depicting scenes from the Epics and the Puranas. With Kudiyattam becoming an obsolete art the Kuthambalams are no longer constructed in Kerala temples. The old Kuthambalams in temple premises now present a deserted look. It deserts mention that the Kuthambalam architecture has recently influenced the construction of a unique theatre or Natyagriha in the Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthi.

Chavittu Natakam which is now almost defunct is theatrical art evolved by the leaders of the church, under the guidance of the Portuguese missionaries, as a Christian alternative to the Hindu Kathakali. It presents stories from the lives of Christian saints and the history of Christianity. Unlike in Kathakali, the actors in Chavittu Natakam not only speak and sing but also stamp on the wooden platform with their feet to the tune of songs and beating of drums. It is because acting and stamping from important elements in Chavittu Natakam that it has come to be called so. The movements of the actors on the stage are more lively and vigorous than graceful or artistic. Women are not allowed to participate in Chavittu Natakam. Music, vocal and instrumental, has an important place in this art. Though it developed as the Christian counter part of Kathakali, the Chavittu Natakam is modelled more after the European Opera and Ballet than after Kathakali. The stage in Chavittu Natakam was an unusually large one and it could accommodate as many as fifty actors at a time along with the members of the orchestra.

In modern times Malayalam drama as a form of popular entertainment has acquired enormous popularity. In the latter half of the 19th century the translation of Abhijnana Sakuntalam by Kerala Varma Valia Koyi Tampuran and its successful presentation on the stage gave a fillip to Malayalam drama. The successful enactment of Tamil musical plays by drama troupes from Tamil Nadu in different parts of Kerala helped to hasten this trend. The composition of a series of short plays with historical themes by C.V. Raman Pillai and their enactment by amateur clubs in Trivandrum marked a turning point in the evolution of modern Malayalam theatre. Dramas with social themes soon replaced historical plays. Special mention may be made of V.T. Bhattatiripad's Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku and K. Damodaran's Pattabakki. With the increasing popularity Malayalam drama as a medium of popular entertainment professional troupes like the KPAC, the Kalidasa Kala Kendram and Kalanilayam have made their mark in the field in recent times. Thus the professional theatre has come to acquire its place in the social and cultural life of modern Kerala.

Source: IT Department, Government of Kerala