K.G. Paulose, an untiring researcher in kutiyattam,considered to be the only surviving Sanskrit theatre, well preserved in Kerala, has come out with a comprehensive and in-depth study of this ancient form of visual performance with the roots of Bharata's Natyasastra. The beginnings of this traditional theatre are lost in myths and legends. The very fact that it has been preserved for the past several centuries is nothing short of a miracle, but through various ups and downs during its long history it has maintained a vibrant repertory with elaborate stage manuals and performance manuals intact. Much may have been lost due to the indifference of the practitioners and the neglect of the public, but what has survived the unkind onslaughts of history is truly remarkable which makes it one of the intangible heritages of mankind.
When some years ago as a member of the Indian sub-commission for cultural co-operation with UNESCO , I submitted a proposal for the resuscitation of nannyarkuttu, a part of kutiyattam theatre exclusively performed by women. The idea was not favourably entertained by the Indian representatives, but now that UNESCO has come forward to put kutiyattam as a whole on the cultural map of the world, there has been a general recognition that this theatre not only deserves encouragement and preservation, but also further development and enrichment in keeping with its long tradition and present-day audience.
Paulose pays close attention to the physical realities of changing times,whether in relation to Natyasastra or in relation to performance and performers. This is something rarely found in the writings of traditionalists. Nothing exists in its pristine form through centuries and it is reasonable to believe that not only the physical condition of stage performance but even the structure of plays, the taste of the audience and the use of language have undergone changes. The very fact of the evolution of Indian theatre is hardly conceded by hardcore classicists.
Paulose perhaps goes to the other extreme, holding that materialist history can explain problems of aesthetics. As a corrective to the earlier view of immutable history, this certainly has a point to make. One should know all the details of history to properly historicize every change in popular taste. Some broad generalizations can still be made in the light of what we know of Indian history. A work of art like a play, for instance, originates in time, changes through changing times: Indian theatre too has not remained static. Kutiyattam is a good case study to note the changing and unchanging nature of Indian theatre.
This book consists of thirty-five chapters neatly arranged in five parts. The first part is mainly concerned with the evolution of Indian theatre looked at from a Pan-Indian perspective. Part two focuses attention on the Kerala scene highlighting the local aspects of kutiyattam theatre and performance. Part three lists the major playwrights and plays associated with kutiyattam as well as techniques of presentation. Part four discusses the stage manuals, with an account of the improvisations, additions and deviations. Part five updates the information we have about innovations, tracing the developments upto UNESCO's recognition of kutiyattam as humanity's intangible heritage. To the beginners who are just initiated to this theatre this book will be informative and instructive; to the connoisseur it throws up many ideas for further thoughts, some perhaps controversial. Some sections of the book are historical, some descriptive and some analytical. In some sections the author goes to the minutest details. For example, chapter twenty-two highlights some of the high points of the histrionics of kutiyattam and underscores the aesthetic delight one derives from them. Equally specific are the comments on multiple transformation of roles in the enactment of plays and the documentation on improvisation in chapter twenty-six. The discussion of subtexts is another important aspect the author puts in perspective. Some readers may feel that the discussion of techniques of kutiyattam here needs more elaboration and illustration. It may therefore be hoped that the author will turn his attention to those aspects of this inexhaustible and intricate form of theatre, which are not discussed in this seminal work.
(from the book "KUTIYATTAM THEATRE - The Earliest Living Tradition")