In the modern world where new genres of art are being created every other day, sometimes it gets difficult to preserve the oldest of variations. One of these lost content includes an ancient dance form called Koodiyattam with its grounds dating back to more than 2000 years ago. Koodiyattam is known as one of the oldest expressional dance forms that fulfills dramatic satiation to a heavenly sphere. A confluence of folklores, music , poetry and dexterous dance movements makes it stand out among other varieties.
Belonging to the classical times of Tamilakam, which has now been divided into the states of Tamilnadu and Kerela in Southern India; Koodiyattam was a popular genre of art form that used to be performed along with spoken Sanskrit verses and an amalgamation of drum beats emanating from the sound of earthen pots and a string of flutes.
The form was so vigorously popular in its day that it ran sometimes for a span of forty days under the chaste security of powerful rulers who admired the entertaining tactics of Koodiyattam.
Ancient rulers from the kingdoms of the Cheras, Cholas and Pallavas ordered the form to be performed as a cultural relic in times of festivals and in temples. They adorned the temples filling up the walls with epitaphs and inscriptions describing the nonpareil nature of it. Such was the glory of the form. These Inscriptions are available in the temples at Tanjore, Tiruvidaimaruthur, Vedaranyam, Tiruvarur, and Omampuliyur. They were treated as a fundamental part of worship services.
However, over the years it has tended to fade away out of the performing circles. Some major initiatives have been taken by organisations to preserve the prodigal act of Koodiyattam. UNESCO, one of the largest and the most sorted franchise in the world has selected Koodiyattam among a badge of other thirty two entries to be preserved and facilitated as the “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” It is for the first time that UNESCO has selected art forms from across the world to recognize oral heritage and traditional culture.
Koodiyattam when translated, literally means ‘acting together’. A combination of dance drama conducted by the Chakkiyars (a caste among Hindus), and the Nangiars (women of the Nambiyar caste), playing the female roles based on mythic from Hindu mythology. The addition of Buddhist texts is said to be done later and not in the original time span due to religious controversial issues.
Koodiyattam is incomplete without the instrumental cadence resonating out of the musical instruments played along with the drama. These instruments include mizhavu, Kuzhitalam,etakka,sankhu and kurumkuzhal.
Regular within the cultural hubbub of the dance drama follows the rules of ‘Natya Sastra’.
The ‘Sanskrit’ slokas and scripts are recited by the characters in the play while the supporting percussion of “Mizhavu, Edakka, Kurum Kuzhal,Kuzhithalam and Sanku”
are provided by others.
‘Mizhavu’ a pot shaped vessel turned upside down is the most important instrument played by the community males of ‘Nambiar’. The make-up and costumes of Koodiyattam are much elaborated and structural weave of art which has now come to inspire the decorations for ‘Krishnanattam’ and ‘Kathakali’. The main characters are lapped by a green colour face and the small curved paper to frame faces. The costumes are vibrant and colourful with a majority of red, black and white. The costume of the vidushaka (jester) has a make up on different from that of the heroic characters distinguishing him with small head-gears and costume that highlights his amusing features.
This art form emphasises the accomplishment of ‘Natyam'(Acting and uses face expressions)’Nritham'(Dance),’Geetham’ (songs) and ‘Vadyam'(music out of instruments) all with equal importance.
The guidance of enacting Indian Theatre is writtenin a book by an ancient play writer ‘Bhasa’ which plays a didactic vessel of knowledge for Koodiyattam and other sanskirt plays.
The stories used for dramas for Koodiyattam are extracts from Hindu religious and mythological texts such as the ‘Ramayana’ ‘Bhagavatham’ and “Mahabharatha’. Other important texts dramatized voraciously in Koodiyattam include the noted works of Kalidasa, one of the pioneers of ancient Indian literature.
A Koodiyattam performance comprises of three vital parts beginning with the purappadu where a solo actor uses a verse along with the nritta aspect of dance. This is followed by the second extract the nirvahanam where abhinaya, enacted brings to describe to the audience the mood of the main character of the play. Thenirvahanam, is the theorized retrospective, where the actual play begins. The concluding of the performance is koodiyattam which is the play itself.
An ingredient so nurturing and vital in our aesthetic culture needs to be preserved and celebrated for many centuries to come.