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Kutiyattam Dance

The historic classical dramatic art form of Kerala, Kutiyattam (Koodiyattam) actually means ‘acting together’. Counted as India’s one of the ancient living theatrical traditions, Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre is declared as the ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO. The intangible oral art form comprises of elaborate costumes, tangible musical instruments, jewelry and dramatic make-up. These tangible aspects showcase innumerable moods that transfer the buffs of art to a world of ultimate bliss.

Origin of Kutiyattam

With its origin nearly 2000 years ago, the rare art form combines aspects of ancient Koothu with dramas in Sanskrit theatre. Though Kutiyattam boasts of a history of thousands years in Kerala, the actual origin or evolution still remains a mystery.

The ancient tradition came into picture much before Kathakali and other theatrical forms. Traditionally performed in temples known as Koothambalams, the efficiently portray the acts from epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Kutiyattam finds its roots from Koothu. The concept of dramatized dance worship services was considered vital along with chanting of the hymns.

Who performs Kutiyattam?

Nangiars, the women of Nambiar caste and Chakyars, a sub caste of Kerala Hindus perform Kutiyattam. The traditional art form creates a visual retreat when two or more characters mark their presence on the stage. They act to the tunes of drummers and mizhavu.

A single actor can also perform the same but he or she may be accompanied by somebody after a few days.  Chakyars are the center of attraction whereas the Chakyar women are restrained from participating. Instead, the female counterpart is played by the Nangyaramma.

How is Kutiyattam performed?

Kutiyattam is an art form that determines the text. A bounty of expressions and emotions, the Sanskrit theatre helps to relive various scenes from the notable epics. Hasta abhinaya (the language of gestures) and Netra abhinaya (expressions of eyes) are very prominent.

Ten to fifteen years of rigorous training is required to become fully-fledged performers. Actors are trained to control the breathing sophistically and make delicate muscle shifts of the body and face. It takes sincere efforts of days and weeks to master a single act.  Moreover, it is surprising to note that presenting a few cantos from a play can take hours. Also, the entire performance can last for days.

A perfect confluence of music from various instruments along with Vedic chants and ragas create a pristine aura. Vidushaka (jester) is the person who explains the entire Sanskrit act into Malayalam and adds humor and fun to it. An oil lamp is usually placed on the stage while performing to indicate a divine presence.

Attire worn while performing Kutiyattam

Elaborate costumes, decorative headdresses and fine make-up bring life to Kutiyattam. Actors are dressed up in white, red or black. But jester wears a different attire and special makeup to stand out amongst the rest. Various emotions, attributes and moods are depicted by varied color schemes and designs. Only natural colors and paints are used for makeup.

Where is Kutiyattam performed?

Earlier, Kutiyattam was a part of temple rituals but nowadays this dying art is into practice in the province of Kerala.