Koodiyaatam a traditional art form of Kerala. Koodiyaatam means combined acting which signifies Sanskrit drama presented in the traditional style in temple theatres of Kerala and is the only surviving specimen of the ancient Sanskrit theatre. This time my visit to the God’s own country gave me the opportunity to see this marvelous act of Koodiyaatom. The act turned me wordless. Koodiyaatam has an attested history of a thousand years in Kerala, but its origin and evolution are shrouded in mystery. It seems that Kutiyattam is an amalgam of the classical Sanskrit theatre of ancient India and the regional theatre of Kerala. It is believed that Kulasekhara Varman Cheraman Perumal, an ancient king of Kerala, who ruled from Mahodayapuram reformed Koodiyattam, introducing the local language for Vidusaka and structuring presentation of the play to well defined units. He himself wrote two plays, Subhadraharana and Tapatisamvarana and made arrangements for their presentation on stage with the help of a Brahmin friend of him called Tolan. These plays are still presented on stage. 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 confined to the temple precincts of Kerala in specially constructed theatres called Kutampalams. The 2,000 year old Sanskrit drama tradition Kutiyattam, performed in Kerala, southern India, strictly follows the Natya Shastra

Natya Shastra is an ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music. It was written at an uncertain date in classical India and is traditionally attributed to the Sage Bharata. The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope. While it primarily deals with stagecraft, it has come to influence music, classical Indian dance, and literature as well. It covers stage design, music, dance, makeup, and virtually every other aspect of stagecraft. It is very important to the history of Indian classical music because it is the only text which gives such detail about the music and instruments of the period. Thus, an argument can be made that the Natya Shastra is the foundation of the fine arts in India. The most authoritative commentary on the Natya Shastra is Abhinavabharati by Abhinava Gupta.

The Natya Shastra delineates a detailed theory of drama comparable to the Poetics of Aristotle. Bharata refers to bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform, and the rasas (emotional responses) that they inspire in the audience. He argues that there are eight principal rasas: love, pity, anger, disgust, heroism, awe, terror and comedy, and that plays should mix different rasas but be dominated by one.

Each rasa experienced by the audience is associated with a specific bhava portrayed on stage. For example, in order for the audience to experience sringara, the playwright, actors and musician work together to portray the bhava called rati.

The main musical instruments used in Koodiyattam are Mizhavu, Kuzhitalam, Etakka, Kurumkuzhal and Sankhu. Mizhavu, the most prominent of these, is a percussion instrument which is played by a person of the Ambalavas Nambiar caste, accompanied by Nangyaramma playing the kuzhithalam. Koodiyattam has been performed by Chakyars and by Nangyaramma. The name Koodiyattam suggests a combined performance of Chakyar and Nangyar. 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.

In the modern world, the late Natyacharya Vidushakaratnam Padma Shree Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar has been the best-known face of Koodiyattam. He was known for mastery of Rasa Abhinaya with special reference to Netrābhinaya. He has been a major force in popularizing Koodiyattam by taking it out of the Hindu temples, performing across India with his troupe, and teaching it to non-Chakyar caste members. He has also adapted, choreographed and directed well-known plays such as Kalidasa’s The Recognition of Sakuntala, Vikramorvaśīya and Mālavikāgnimitra; Bhasa’s Swapnavāsadatta and Pancharātra for performance in the Koodiyattam style.

Mani Madhava Chakkiar’s disciple and nephew Mani Damodara Chakyar is also a renowned Koodiyattam performer of traditional devotional Koodiyattams, such as Anguliyanka, Mattavilasa, Mantranka, Ezhamanka.

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  1. Nair Said,

    It will be absolutely wrong to say that Mani Madhava chakyar brought he marjor changes in Koodiyattam. He is one of the main trios of Koodiyattam legends – Painkulam Ramachakyar, Ammannur Madhava chakyar and Mani Madhavachakyar. It is Painkulam Ramachakyar who brought Koodiyattam out of temples and made it possible for the common people see. He made necessary modifications in the ‘Aharya’ – costumes. Comparing to Painkulam Ramachakyar, Mani Madhava chakyar has less contributions in the field of koodiyattam.

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