5. Over-ritualisation (14-20 c. CE)
The immediate effect of this shift of space was two-fold: editing of dramatic texts and over-ritualisation of theatre. The texts and their contents had to be modified to suit to the devotional atmosphere of the holy place. Certain parts had to be curtailed.Budhist characters like Rumanvan were eliminated. Devotional portions were added. It was this atmosphere that gave prominence to Ramayana stories.Ascharyachoodaamani was preferred to Abhinjaanasakuntala .
Another effect of the space-shift was the over-ritualisation of theatre. Drama was considered to be a visual sacrifice. Bharata had prescribed rituals in the beginning. But rituals and ceremonies got a greater role in performance. The performance of Kutiyattam at this stage has three distinct parts:
a) Preliminaries in the form of rituals
b) The retrospective narration (solo)
c) Enjoining to act the dramatic text.
The details regarding the ritual practices are given below:
Before the performance begins, the chaakyaar takes a purificatory bath in the pond attached to the temple. Then he moves to the green-room and pays obeisance to the gods and preceptors. The main priest of the temple bestows his blessings on the actor and gives him a piece of consecrated cloth and a ring made of grass leaves. The lamp on the stage is lit with the wick brought from the sanctum sanctorum. The nampyaar takes his seat behind the mizhavu, sounds the drum and thus announces the performance. The nangiar, seated on the right side of the stage recites verses praising Ganapati, Siva and Saraswati to the drumming of the mizhavu. This is known as goshti. The nampyaar now comes forward, recites the benedictory verse and sprinkles the stage with holy water.
A small curtain is held for the preliminary ritual dance. The sutradhaara enters and standing back to the stage performs the ritual dance behind the curtain. When the curtain is removed, he turns around and faces the audience with a pleasant look. Then he dances taking the conventional five steps (panchapadavinyaasa). He opens his hands which are laden with imaginary flowers and offers to the gods. He goes on to symbolically enact a propitiatory ceremony by offering flowers and water, offers celestial Ganga water to the conch and sprinkles the stage with holy water. He then worships Ganapati and Saraswati. In a pleasant mood he proceeds to the stage and observes the learned scholars waiting for the performance. Paying respects to them he recites the introductory verse and enacts its meaning with gestures.
This is followed by a series of pure dance forms, known as nityakriya. The dances are interspersed with prayers to the deities by the nangyar. The dances are in different charies. This is followed by a tip to toe description – kesaadipaadavarnana - of Siva and Parvati. There is then a long (14 verses altogether) propitiation to the lords of eight quarters. It ends with the praise to Indra and flowers are offered to all the beings - celestial, terrestrial and netherworlds.
The steps for nityakriya are rigidly structured and the actor is not free to make any changes. It is performed by the actor prior to his transformation to the character. After all these rituals the main character enters. Nityakriya dance is done even in the midst of the performance which has come under severe criticism from the author of Natankusa.
6. Naatyasaastra and Kutiyaattam
Kutiyattam follows the principles of NS, yet it is different from it. The most important deviation is in the mode of presentation.
1) Bharata’s primary concern was natya. Kutiyattam transforms natyam into aattam(dance). Natya is prose, dance makes it poetic.
2) Bharata conceived a multi-character stage. Kutiyattam prefers solo performance. Kutiyattam developed Kulasekhara’s purvasambandha to nirvahana. This solo acting provides the most exciting moments to the connoisseurs.
3) Imaginative acting hinted by Bharata is fully developed in Kutiyattam. Bharata does not permit multiple impersonation- pakarnnaattam, but in Kutiyattam it gives the most exhilarating experience.
4) Bharata permits the use of local language in a limited way. Vidushaka in Kutiyattam made the maximum benefit out of it. He monopolised the stage for several days. This enabled him to interact meaningfully with contemporary life. But Bharata does not give that much freedom to deviate from the original dramatic text to the jester.
5) Bharata prescribes a rigid structure for drama with five sandhis,sixty four sandhyangas,five arthaprakrtis and five avesthas. Kutiyattam prefers a loose and elastic structure.
6) The actor of Bharata is an imitator. He has two more functions in Kutiyattam-that of narrator and interpreter.
7. Period of Renaissance (1960 CE- )
For six centuries (14-20) Kutiyaattam remained confined to the holy temples. The chaakyaar, nampyaar and nangyaar alone were allowed to learn and perform the plays in a devotional spirit. This exclusivity was good to the art since they preserved it as kuladharma. But it also caused to suffer a kind of isolation since other sections of the society were unconcerned and even ignorant about the details. Temples provided all facilities for these artistes to flourish. The actors were held in high esteem and their status inside the temple-theatre was next only to the chief priest. Even the king and landlord could not utter a word against the actor. This security emboldened the chaakyaar to criticise the evils in the society. His function was that of the fifth estate in an otherwise closed society. As the society was more or less in a frozen state there was no scope for any radical innovations either in form or in content during this period.
20th century brought several changes in the social fabric of Kerala. The societal structure which supported the art-form crumbled down. Kutiyattam was on the verge of extinction. Many in the new generation were not willing to continue the traditional training even as kuladharma. The ancient form was struggling for survival. The actors, at this juncture, dared to take the form back to the public space. They were successful in their endeavour. The public accepted Kutiyattam, which was hitherto inaccessible to them, in good spirit. This became a landmark in the history of the art-form. The Kerala Kalamandalam founded by the great poet Vallathol for the promotion of traditional art forms of Kerala opened its doors for Kutiyattam. A department was started in 1965 under the great doyen Painkulam Rama chaakyaar and admissions were thrown open to all sections of society. A systematic method of training was evolved. A magnificent natyamandapa was constructed providing a public space for performance.
Kutiyattam got a face-lift both in appearance and in content. The costumes were fashioned to suit modern taste. Plays were re-edited reducing the duration to a few hours. The aesthetics of the performance and taste of the audience were the prime concerns for these restructurings. Many new promising faces began to appear on stage. The most important phenomenon of this period is the powerful presence of women on stage and the resuscitation of nangyaarkoothu, the exclusive performance of women.
An important development of this period was the global attention that Kutiyattam received. Scholars from the West began to turn their attention, even from the sixties, to this wonderful form which was not accessible to them till then. This led the academia in and out, to take up serious research on various aspects of Sanskrit theatre, especially Kutiyattam and its allied forms . Aesthetic study was a neglected area in the history of Kutiyattam. The entry of Kutiyattam to world theatre movement was the glorious moment for this ancient form. Many theatre activists considered the mode of acting in Kutiyattam, especially the subtle netrabhinaya, as the mother of all acting. The declaration as intangible heritage in 2001 crowned all these accomplishments.
Professor (Dr.) K G Paulose(b.1946) was the first Vice chancellor of Keralakalamandalam Deemed University for Art and Culture. He has specialised in Indian Aesthetics, Ancient Theatre and Kutiyattam. There are fifteen books and nearly fifty research papers to his credit. At present, prof. Paulose is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla.
Kutiyattam and Ancient Indian Theatre - 5. Over-ritualisation (14-20 c. CE)
5. Over-ritualisation (14-20 c. CE)