Kudiyattam is one of the earliest of the theatrical arts of Kerala. Kudiyattam presents a full-fledged drama or select portions thereof. Several actors appear on the stage at the same time as in a modern drama. The actor portraying the male characters is known as the Chakiar and one who portrays the female characters is known as the Nangiar. The Nangiar also clangs the cymbals and chants Sanskrit verses which the Chakiar enacts. A feature of Kudiyattam is that there is a Vidushaka or clown who repeats in Malayalam all the Sanskrit verse being uttered by the actors.
Kudiyattam used to be performed in temples within multi-pillared theatres known as kuthambalams (built specially for the purpose) by architects, according to the norms laid down in Bharatamuni's Natyasastra. The Kuthambalam was a storehouse of the finest sculptures, particularly wood carvings and paintings depicting scenes from the epics and the Puranas.Today Kudiyattam almost stands on the verge of extinction and is performed only in a few major temples like Irinjalakuda, Perumanam, Kottiyur etc.
Origin of Kudiyattam
Koodiyattam [kutiyattam], meaning "combined acting," signifies Sanskrit drama presented in the traditional style in temple theatres of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is the only surviving specimen of the ancient Sanskrit theatre. It has an attested history of a thousand years in Kerala, but its origin and evolution are shrouded in mystery. Kutiyattam and chakyar koothu were among the dramatized dance worship services in temples of ancient India, particularly Tamilakam (modern-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala). Both kootiyattam and chakyar koothu find several mentions in ancient sangam literature of south and also in the epigraphs belonging to subsequent Pallava, Chera, Chola periods in Tamilnadu. Inscriptions related to the dramatized dance worship services like koodiyattam and chakyar koothu are available in temples at Tanjore,Tiruvidaimaruthur, Vedaranyam,Tiruvarur, and Omampuliyur. They were treated as an integral part of worship services alongside the singing of tevaram and prabandam hymns. There are also mentions in epigraphs those forms of dramatized dance worship services that are called aariyam that mostly had sanskrit scripts for plays.
Several ancient kings, and members of other professions are listed to have authored several works for these services. There is also evidences of these services being done all over ancient subcontinent during time of cholas and pallavas. A Pallava king called Rajasimha has been credited with authoring a play called kailasodharanam in tamil that has the topic of Ravana becoming subject to siva's anger and being subdued mercilessly for the same.For examples a fragmented inscription at the door step of an ancient shiva temple(now non-existent) in pegan in burma finds mention to these services.
It is believed that Kulasekhara Varman Cheraman Perumal, an ancient king of tamil chera dynasty, who ruled from Mahodayapuram (modern Kodungallur) 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 performed in specially designed temples called koothambalams.
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