Article Index

4. Temple Theatre (14-15 c. CE)
Historical period in the South began by 3rd c. BCE, the sangham age. At that time Kerala was an integral part of Tamizhakam. The first wave of settlement of Brahmins here goes back to this age. The second wave, more powerful, was during the Chalukya period, 7-8th centuries of Common Era. With the emergence Chera empire (9-12 c) these settlements came to acquire more importance. A significant development of this period was the emergence of temples in the place of village shrines-kavus. A new form of agamic worship under the guidance of Brahmin priests came into force centred round the temples. These temples were not only places of worship but also of art, culture and everything related to the social life including land and property . When temples grew in size the importance and number of functionaries also increased. This gave birth to a new sub-caste, ampalavasi,  temple servants. The Brahmins entered into alliance with them as also with the sudras. They prevailed upon the ruling class also by conferring on them the status of kshatriya. The Brahmins thus formed a grand alliance between themselves and ruling class on the one hand and between themselves and the lower class on the other . The tenants had already come under their control. The impact of this grand alliance was tremendous. It brought out basic changes in the social fabric of the land. There was a progressive secularisation of the Brahmin community. Most of them concentrated primarily on worldly affairs; only a small fraction continued Vedic studies. Simultaneously, the indigenous groups were progressively sanskritised resulting in the imposition of a priestly Brahmin authority on a secular society. Consequently a large number of temple servants belonging to the varier, pishaaroti, potuvaal, chaakyaar and nampyaar sub-castes acquired proficiency in Sanskrit language and literature.

Attached to the temples there were salai and theatre, the former to cater to the need of education and the latter for singing, dancing, acting and story- telling. Scholars were appointed in temples to recite regularly stories from Mahabharata. This atmosphere dominating the social arena of this age enhanced the demand for and prestige of chaakyaars, nangyaars and nampyaars . Separate institutions evolved around each of them. The decline of the centralised authority of the Cheras and the break-down of the unity provided by Sanskrit due to the emergence of local languages hastened the process of amalgamation. The 12th and 13th centuries witnessed the realisation of this transformation. In these circumstances the Sanskrit theatre moved to the temple premises by the end of the 14th century. Separate theatre-houses began to be constructed attached to important temples.