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Koodiyattam (Malayalam: ,
Kiya, Sanskrit: , Kiyam),
also transliterated as Kutiyattam, is a form
of Sanskrit theatre traditionally performed in
the state of Kerala, India. Performed in the
Sanskrit language in Hindu temples, it is
believed to be 2,000 years old. It is officially
recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of
the Oral and Intangible Heritage of

Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar and his troupe performing Thoranayudham (part of
Bhasa's play Abhieka Nataka based on the epic Ramayana) Koodiyattam (1962,
Chennai). It was the first ever Koodiyattam performance outside Kerala.

Koodiyattam [kutiyattam], meaning "combined acting," signifies
Sanskrit drama presented in the traditional style in temple theatres of
Kerala. 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 Tamil Nadu. 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 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 evidence 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 of 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 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.
The use of Buddhist themes for plays is a very controversial and moot issue and seem to be a later interpolation not
existing since ancient times for the latter not being a then-legal vedic system.

Instruments used
Traditionally, the main musical instruments used in Koodiyattam
are mizhavu, kuzhitalam, etakka, kurumkuzhal, and sankhu.
Mizhavu, the most prominent of these, is a percussion instrument
that is played by a person of the Ambalavas Nambiar caste,
accompanied by Nangyaramma playing the kuzhithalam (a type of

Mizhavu kept in mizhavana (wooden box made

especially to keep mizhavu).

Performance style
Traditionally, Koodiyattam has been performed by Chakyars (a subcaste of
Kerala Hindus) and by Nangyaramma (women of the Ambalavasi Nambiar
caste). The name Koodiyattam, meaning playing or performing together, is
thought to refer to the presence or more actors on stage who act in
consonance with the beats of the mizhavu drummers. Alternatively, it may
also be a reference to a common practice in Sanskrit drama where a single
actor who has performed solo for several nights is joined by another.[1]
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. Koodiyattam performances are lengthy and elaborate
affairs, ranging from 12 to 150 hours spread across several nights. A complete
Koodiyattam performance consists of three parts. The first of these is the
purappadu where an actor performs a verse along with the nritta aspect of
Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar as Ravana
dance. Following this is the nirvahanam where the actor, using abhinaya,
in Kutiyattam.
brings to the audience the mood of the main character of the play. The
nirvahanam, a retrospective, takes the audience up to the point where the
actual play begins. The final part of the performance is koodiyattam which is the play itself. While the first two parts
are solo acts, Koodiyattam can have as many characters as are required to perform on the stage.[2]
The practice was that elders of the Chakyar community taught it to their youngsters and it was an art form performed
only by Chakyars till the 1950s. In 1955 Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar performed Kutiyattam outside the temple for


the first time.[3] For performing the art forms outside the temples he faced many problems from the hardline Chakyar
community. In his own words:
My own people condemned my action (performing Koothu and Kutiyattam outside the precincts of the
temples), Once, after I had given performances at Vaikkom, they even thought about excommunicating me.
I desired that this art should survive the test of time. That was precisely why I ventured outside the temple.[4]
In 1962, under the leadership of Dr. V. Raghavan, noted art and Sanskrit scholar, Sanskrit Ranga of Madras, invited
Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar to perform Kutiyattam in Chennai. Thus for the first time in history Kutiyattam was
performed outside Kerala.[5][6] They presented at Madras on three nights: Kutiyattam scenes from three plays
Abhieka,Subhadrdhanajaya and Ngnda.[7]
The performance of the maestro Maani Maadhava Chakyar made great impact on the people and art critics. People
outside Kerala were able to witness his talent.[8] Then Mani Madhava Chakyar was invited and performed
Kutiyattam at places in north India like New Delhi and Banaras (1964). It made the critic to accept his authority in
Rasa Abhinaya, Natyasastra and Kutiyattam.
After Chakyar's first tour to New Delhi, he was awarded immediately with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1964
for his "contributions to Chakyar Koothu and Kutiyattam" the first national recognition to the maestro and the art
form. His supremacy in Rasa-abhinaya and Netrabhinaya and Kutiyattam attracted lot of people towards the art
He performed Kudiyattam all over India and popularized the same. He
and his troop did Koodiyattam performance in places like Madras
(1962, 1973 and 1977), Madhura (1962), New Delhi (1964, 1966,
1974, 1979 and 1983), Varanasi (1964 and 1979), Bombay (1973),
Ujjain (1982), Bhopal (1987), etc.
The President of India, scholar and philosopher, Sarvepalli
Radhakrishnan invited him to perform Kutiyattam at Rashtrapati
Koodiyattam face makeup
Bhavan (presidential palace) in 1964 and was impressed by the guru's
exceptional acting skill. His Kutiyattam performances, lectures and demonstrations at centres like Madras Music
Academy in Chennai, International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi, Experimental theatre in New Delhi and
Bombay, and National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bombay fetched wide popularity and recognition for his
Abhinaya and Kutiyattam.
He choreographed and directed acts of the plays like
Kalidasa's Abhijnakuntala, Vikramorvaya and
Mlavikgnimitra; Bhasa's Swapnavsavadatta[9] and
Panchartra; Harsha's Nagananda for the first time in
the history of Koodiyattam. He and his troupe
performed these Kutiyattams all over India.[10]

Naayika (heroine) in Kutiyattam. Female roles are done only by

women in Kutiyattam. Vasadatta in Swapnavsavadattam

He performed Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam for

All India Radio and Doordarshan for the first time,
which helped to attract thousands of listeners to these
traditional art forms. It was he who started
demonstrations in Kudiyattam to popularise the same.

In early 1960s Maria Christoffer Byrski, a Polish

student doing research in Indian theatres at Banaras
Hindu University came to study Koodiyattam from the
maestro Mani Madhava Chakyar and became the first non-Chakyar/nambiar to learn the art form. He stayed in
Guru's home at Killikkurussimangalam and studied the art form in traditional Gurukula way.


Noted artists
In the modern world, the late Natyacharya Vidushakaratnam Padma Shree
guru Mani Madhava Chakyar mastered Rasa Abhinaya with special reference
to Netrbhinaya. 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 adapted,
choreographed and directed plays such as Kalidasa's The Recognition of
Swapnavsadatta and Panchartra for performance in the Koodiyattam

Srigara Rasa-abhinaya of guru Mni

Mdhava Chkyr.

Nayaka (Hero) King Udayana in

Swapnavasavadattam Kutiyattam

The other most important exponent of Koodiyattam is Padma Bhushan

Ammannur Madhava Chakyar. In the 1980s, he became one of the first
Koodiyattam performers to present this art to an international audience. He
visited France and England in 1982, Switzerland and The Netherlands in 1987
and Japan in 1988. He presented plays such as Balivadham, Thoranayudham,
Asokavanikankam, Hanumaddutam, Jatayuvadham, Surpanakhangam,
Thoranayudham and Ankuliyankam and greatly popularised Koodiyattam. He
continued his teaching practice throughout his life in Ammanoor Chachu
Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam at Irinjalakuda in Thrissur District. Any
reference to Chakyar Koothu will not be complete without mentioning
Painkulam Raman Chakyar. He was the first instructor for Chakyar Koothu
when it was started as a course in Kalamadalam. In 1980, he was also the first
one to spread international awareness of "Chakyar Koothu" and Koodiyattam
by mentoring a few European students and facilitated by them in leading his
troupe on a European tour including Germany, France and Poland. He had
more than 1000 stage appearances in different roles. He successfully
produced and staged the 2nd Act of Sakunthalam, 3rd Act of Nagananda and
Jadayuvadhankam in Ascharyachoodamani. He also supervised and
participated in the production of a colour documentary film on koodiyattam in
Mani Madhava Chakkiar's disciple and nephew Mani Damodara Chakyar is
also a Koodiyattam performer of traditional devotional Koodiyattams, such as
Anguliyanka, Mattavilasa, Mantranka, Ezhamanka (seventh act of
Ascharyachoodamani). Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar is a Koodiyattam
artist from Thrissur, Kerala, India.

A dying art form

Margi Madhu as Ravanan at Nepathya

Koodiyattam has traditionally been an exclusive art form performed in special

venues called koothambalams in Hindu temples and access to these
performances were highly restricted to only caste Hindus. Also, performances
are lengthy taking up to forty days to complete. The collapse of the feudal
order in the nineteenth century in Kerala led to a curtailment in the patronage
extended to Koodiyattam artistes and they faced serious financial difficulties.

Following a revival in the early twentieth century, Koodiyattam is once again facing a lack of funding, leading to a
severe crisis in the profession.[12] UNESCO has called for the creation of a network of Koodiyattam institutions and
gurukalams to nurture the transmission of the art form to future generations and for the development of new
audiences besides fostering greater academic research in it. The Margi Theatre Group in Thiruvananthapuram is a
notable organisation dedicated to the revival of Kathakali and Koodiyattom in Kerala.[13]

Related literature and books

Natyakalpadruma (1975), a Kerala Sahitya Academy Award-winning book on Koodiyattam written by Guru
Mani Madhava Chakyar, considered authoritative by scholars.[14]
The Ntya Shstra, an ancient work of dramatic theory Bharata Muni describes the Sanskrit theatre of the Gupta
Empire; Koodiyattam is believed to preserve some aspects of the performance style of that period.
Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikeshvara,another work of dramatic theory comparable to the Ntya Shstra.
Farley Richmond, Kutiyattam: Sanskrit Theater of India (University of Michigan Press, 2002). CD-ROM
featuring videos and text.
Rajendran C, "The Traditional Sanskrit Theatre of Kerala "(University of Calicut,1989)
Virginie Johan, Kuttu-Kutiyattam : thtres classiques du Kerala . Revue dhistoire du thtre 216, 2002-4:
Virginie Johan, Pour un thtre des yeux : lexemple indien . Coulisses 33, 2006 : 259-274.

[1] Shulman, David. "Creating and Destroying the Universe in Twenty-Nine Nights"
(http:/ / www. nybooks. com/ blogs/ nyrblog/ 2012/ nov/ 24/
creating-and-destroying-universe-twenty-nine-night/ ). The New York Review of
Books. . Retrieved 9 December 2012.
[2] "All at home" (http:/ / www. thehindu. com/ arts/ theatre/ article3631143. ece). The
Hindu, July 13, 2012. .
[3] * Bhargavinilayam, Das (1999), Mani Madhaveeyam (http:/ / www. kerala. gov. in/
dept_culture/ books. htm), Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala,

[4] Mani Madhava Chakkyar: The Master at Work, K.N. Panikar, Sangeet Natak Akademi New Delhi, 1994
[5] p. 10, 89 (1963), The Samskrita Ranga Annual (http:/ / www. google. co. in/ books?id=a_MvAAAAIAAJ& q=mani+ madhava+ cakyar&
dq=mani+ madhava+ cakyar& pgis=1), Samskrita Ranga, Madras, p.89,
[6] p. 240 (1968), Bibliography of the Books, Papers & Other Contributions of Dr. V. Raghavan (http:/ / www. google. co. in/
books?id=7t8ZAAAAMAAJ& dq=mani+ madhava& lr=), New Order Book Co., India, p.370,
[7] p. 77 (1967), The Samskrita Ranga Annual (http:/ / www. google. co. in/ books?id=vW2O6954zhsC& q=mani+ madhava+ chakyar&
dq=mani+ madhava+ chakyar& lr=& pgis=1), Samskrita Ranga, Madras, p.77,
[8] Dr. V Raghavan, p.21 (http:/ / www. google. co. in/ books?id=O_U7AAAAMAAJ& dq=mani+ madhava& q=mani+ madhava&
pgis=1#search) Natya, Bharatiya Natya Sangh, 1962.
[9] p. 176 (1987), The Samskrita Ranga Annual (http:/ / books. google. com/ books?id=YfQvAAAAIAAJ& q=madhava+ chakyar&
dq=madhava+ chakyar& pgis=1), Samskrita Ranga, Madras, p.176,
[10] "New life for Koodiyattom act" (http:/ / www. hinduonnet. com/ thehindu/ fr/ 2005/ 03/ 25/ stories/ 2005032502310300. htm). The Hindu,
March 25, 2005. .
[11] Mani Madhava Chakkyar: The Master at Work (English film), Kavalam N. Panikar, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, 1994.
[12] "Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre" (http:/ / www. unesco. org/ culture/ ich/ index. php?lg=en& pg=00011& RL=00010). .
[13] http:/ / www. margitheatre. org/
[14] Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy and Venkateswarier Subramaniam, "The Sacred and the Secular in India's Performing Arts: Ananda K.
Coomaraswamy Centenary Essays"(1980), Ashish Publishers, p. 150.

Chakiar, Mani Madhava (1975), Ntyakalpadrumam, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi
Raja, Kunjunni (1964), An Introduction to Kutiyattam, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi
Mani Madhava Chakyar: The Master at Work, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, 1994


External links
Wikiquote:Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar/Kutiyattam
Shulman, David (2012-11-24), "Creating and Destroying the Universe in Twenty-Nine Nights" (http://www.
nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/nov/24/creating-and-destroying-universe-twenty-nine-night/), The New
York Review of Books

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