In the modern world, where new genres of art are being created every other day, 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 one of the oldest expressional dance forms that take dramatic satiation to a heavenly sphere. A confluence of folklores, music, poetry, and dexterous dance movements makes it stand out from other dance forms.
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 an art form that was performed along with spoken Sanskrit verses and an amalgamation of drum beats emanating from the sound of earthen pots and a string of flutes. It was so vigorously popular in its day that sometimes it ran for a span of forty days under the chaste security of powerful rulers who admired the entertaining tactics of Koodiyattam.
Ancient rulers from the Cheras, Cholas and Pallavas kingdoms ordered the form to be performed as a cultural relic in festivals and temples. So 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. Organizations have taken major initiatives to preserve the prodigal act of Koodiyattam. UNESCO, one of the largest and the most sorted franchises of 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.’ For the first time, UNESCO has selected art forms from across the world to recognize the 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 has been added on 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.’
‘Mizhavu,’ a pot-shaped vessel turned upside down which is the most important instrument played by the males of the community ‘Nambiar.’ The make-up and costumes of Koodiyattam are a much elaborated and structural weave of art that has now come to inspire the decorations for ‘Krishnanattam’ and ‘Kathakali.’ The main characters are lapped with a green color face and a small curved paper to frame faces. The costumes are vibrant and colorful, with red, black, and white dominating the color pattern.
The guidance of enacting Indian Theatre is written in a book by an ancient play writer ‘Bhasa,’ which plays a didactic vessel of knowledge for Koodiyattam and other Sanskrit 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 three vital parts beginning with the purappadu, where a solo actor uses a verse and the nritya aspect of dance. The second extract, the nirvahanam, follows this. After that, the nirvahanam is the theorized retrospective, where the actual play begins. Finally, the performance is concluded with the koodiyattam, which is the play itself.
An ingredient so nurturing and vital in our aesthetic culture must be preserved and celebrated for many centuries to come.