Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre of Kerala, can claim the greatest antiquity. Kutiyattam ,originated in an ancient past, dating to about twomillennia
While the performing tradition of Sanskrit plays have ceased to exist elsewhere in India, the continuation of an unbroken tradition of theatre surviving in Kerala, the southernmost tip of India is historically interesting. While there is a rich corpus of plays composed in Sanskrit written by dramatists like Asvaghosha, Bhasa, Sudraka, Kalidasa, Harsha, Bodhayana, Mahendravikramavarman and several others which have come down to us, there are no exact evidence or details regarding the staging of Sanskrit plays during the times they were written, except those reconstructed from history, references available from the Sanskrit plays themselves and from texts like Bharata’s Natya Sastra. The performance practice of Kutiyattam, though it broadly follows the abstract rules of aesthetics described in the Natya Sastra, has its own distinctive characteristics in terms of theatric conventions and method of acting. In the olden days, Kutiyattam was not accessible to anyone except people from the brahmin and other similar ‘higher’ castes, and until recently, it was restricted to the temple as sacred art. Another reason for the restrictive appeal of Kutiyattam is the highly complicated, long-drawn out acting method and theatric grammar which conveyed meaning only to the select few who are conversant with its codes and conventions. The differences of Kutiyattam from the practice described in the Natya Sastra are so marked that scholars tend to explain it away as an anomaly, at best as a regional adaptation/variation. What then are these special characteristics of this theatre form?
Kutiyattam is a performed by a community of male actors called Chakyars and female performers called Nangiars, assisted by drummers called Nambiars, in theatre houses called Kuttampalams. Kutiyattam is an inclusive term that refers to more than one art form--apart from Kutiyattam, the mode of theatre in which the Chakyars and the Nangiars take part together, it also integrates Nangiarkoothu, the theatre exclusively performed by the Nangiars, and Prabandha koothu (or merely Chakyar koothu, as it is otherwise known), the verbal narrative drama of the Chakyars. The prefix “kuti” in Malayalam language primarily means “combined” or “together”, and “attam” means “acting”: therefore, the word “kutiyattam” means “combined acting.” Simply put, it is a theatre in which several characters come together on the stage. Apart from this primary meaning, perhaps there are several other layers of meaning embedded in the term “kuti”. It is a combination of elements drawn from the local Dravidian and the pan-Indian performance traditions. It integrates the histrionic aspect of the elaborate acting of the hero and the other main characters based on classical Sanskrit and the verbal narration of the Vidushaka, the comic character, in the regional language of Malayalam.
Temple theatres called Kuttambalams are permanent theatre structures attached to some of the major temples of Kerala. Considered as one of ‘panchaprasada’, one of the five structures inside the temple complex, these were presumably constructed between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries. There are Kuttambalams in the temples in Trissur, Guruvayoor, Irinjalakkuda, Kidangur, Thrippunithura, Chengannur and Harippad. During recent times, a new one was added in the premises of Kerala Kalamandalam, a major art institution devoted to classical arts in Kerala. The design of Kuttambalam