theatre form in existence with an antiquity of 2000 years,
Kutiyattam is the predecessor to the other well-known
art forms of Kerala like the Kathakali. The only surviving
Sanskrit theatre tradition of India, Kutiyattam is the
most classical (Margi) of all the art forms.
Literally, the word Kutiyattam means,
“acting together”; two or more characters
on the stage at the same time. Traditionally the right
to perform Kutiyattam solely rests with the Chakyars and
Nangiars, with the Nambiars assisting in drumming and
in the green-room. Male roles are performed by the Chakyars
while the female roles are enacted by Nangiars, the female
members of the Nambiar.
Kutiyattam was predominantly performed
in the Koothambalam (temple theatre) built inside the
temple precinct. The design of the stage is simple and
by and large in accordance with the principles of ‘Natyashastra’,
the ancient Indian treatise on performing arts. Nevertheless,
the distinctive nature of traditional Kerala architecture
is also discernible in the structure of Koothambalams.
Kutiyattam lays great stress on ‘abhinaya’
or acting. Abhinaya is a three-fold or four-fold process.
As an introductory step, hand gestures and symbols are
shown and are followed by Sanskrit verse/sloka spoken
in a modulated tone. Then the meaning of the words are
translated to the audience using hand gestures, body postures,
attitudes and facial expressions and this is again followed
by gestures and symbols of the hands.
Kutiyattam retains the strong
and distinctive local flavour of Kerala and has been hailed
by UNESCO as a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible
heritage of humanity’ in 2001.