Reviving Kutiyattam

Reviving Kutiyattam

Sahapedia, the online encyclopaedia on Indian culture and history, will organise a unique six-day Kutiyattam festival in the national capital, in a bid to encourage the traditional performing art form of Kerala that showcases a stylistic presentation of Sanskrit literary masterpieces on the stage.

The festival will be held from August 16-21 at The Fountain Lawns of India International Centre (IIC). The Nepathya group from Kerala will perform full-scale, unabridged masterpiece 'Surpanakhankam', from Saktibhadra's classical Sanskrit play – 'Ascharyachudamani' that is based on the Ramayana.

Sahapedia is organising the spectacular theatrical presentation in collaboration with Seher - the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and India International Centre (IIC) in an extremely rare event.

Professor David Shulman, a renowned Indian Studies scholar and the Renee Lang, Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, will introduce the performance to the audience on August 16 at 6:15 pm.

This spectacular dance performance will feature 12 performers, led by Margi Madhu and Dr Indu G who have mastered their craft through rigorous training and a string of spell binding performances.

Set up in 1998, Nepathya, a centre for excellence in Kutiyattam, has been operating in the central Kerala village of Muzhikkulam, a major site for this performance art form where it is taught, performed and preserved in a traditional format.

"Kutiyattam is a rare tradition battling for survival, especially for the opportunity to perform full-scale, unabridged masterpieces spread out over several nights. It is now rare to make available its brilliance, beauty and complexity in full performances to audiences outside of Kerala. Even in Kerala itself, such complete performances are now rare," said Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Executive Director, Sahapedia.

Considered to be one of India's oldest surviving theatrical traditions and the only surviving art form that uses dramas from ancient Sanskrit theatre, Kutiyattam is recognised by UNESCO as a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity'. The Kutiyattam theatre represents a synthesis of Sanskrit classicism and the local traditions of Kerala.

Traditionally, Kutiyattam was performed by Chakyars (a sub-caste of Kerala Hindus) and by Nangyaramma (women of the Ambalavasi Nambiar caste) mostly within temple precincts, but in contemporary times, it has been performed by people of all communities.

'Surpanakhankam' is a dramatic retelling of the interaction of Surpanakha, the sister of Lanka's demon-king Ravana, with Rama and Lakshmana, and the latter's subsequent rejection of her overtures during their exile in the forest. On the last day, the episode of 'Ninam' (bloodbath), when Surpanakha enters with her slashed blood-splattered nose and waling loudly, is both horrifying and spectacular.

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