Namboothiri Websites, Calicut, Kerala
(A Voluntary and Non-profit-oriented forum for documenting Namboothiri traditions in web)

A Namboothiri in "Koothu" and "Koodiyaattam"

Introduction: It is rather difficult to trace the roots, history and development of "Koothu" and "Koodiyaattam". Renowned scholars like Maani Madhava Chakiar say that it is more than 2000 years old.

Traditionally, only the Chakiar community used to perform Koothu and Koodiyaattam, till recently. Kalaamandalam Sivan Namboodiri is perhaps the only Namboothiri who studied these two art forms to become a top-level performing artiste.

Koothu and Koodiyaattam: It is said: "Naatyaakhyam Panchamam Vedam" (Naatyam - dance or dramatic performance - is the fifth vedam). Naatyavedam was created by Brahmaavu by culling out word pronounciation techniques from Rigvedam, music from Saamavedam, acting from Yajurvedam and facial expressions from Athharva vedam. The Naatyavedam was then given a scientific structure in the form of a treatise (Granthham), "Naatyasaasthram".

Koodiyaattam or Koothu is the only dramatic art form enacted strictly according to Naatyasaasthram. Though the two are often interchangeably used, strictly speaking, Koodiyaattam involves more than one character enacting a drama on the stage, while Koothu has only one Chakiar doing a monologue.

While Chakiars play the part of the male characters, Nangiars do the female parts. They are staged in temples in specially built "Koothambalams" or temple premises ("Valiyambalam"). The former is maintained as sacred as the sanctum sanctorum itself. The technique follows the Bharatha Naatya Saasthram involving the four-fold aspects of enactment, Aangikam (movements of fingers, hands and other parts), Vaachikam (speech), Aahaaryam (make-up and costumes) and Saathwikam. Using this technique, the plays of Sakthibhadran and Bhaasan are enacted. It is not known whether the entire plays were enacted in the early period. For a very long time, only small portions (acts or scenes) are being acted out; and even then it takes several days. It used to take a few months to enact the Manthraankam (Act 3) of the play "Prathijnaayougandharaayanam". In recent times it used to take 41 days. Although this was the way Sanskrit drama was performed in Kerala, it is not known if such was the case in the entire country.

It is only the Vidooshakan (a comedian) who offers meaning in Malayalam for the Sanskrit lines. All the rest use only Sanskrit and Praakritham. When a single Chakiar uses only Vaachikam and presents "Samskritha Chamboo-Prabandhams" it is called Koothu. The verses and prose are recited in a peculiar inimitable style (tune), parsed and then explained in Malayalam. The Chakiar is permitted to point out any one from the audience and poke fun of him/her, but audience response is taboo. Thus, in a sense, political and social criticism could be achieved effectively through satire. This proved to be quite useful at a time when newspapers and mass media were not in the scene.

Accompaniments consist of Mizhaavu, Kuzhithaalam (miniature cymbal), Itakka and Kurumkuzhal (short clarinet). The mizhaavu drummers are invariably Nambiars, who also often use the Kuzhithaalam. Traditionally only the Chakiar and Nambiar community were authorised to perform these arts. However, during the past 35 - 40 years, other communities have also entered the field. The Kerala Kalaamandalam, Margi, Ammannur Gurukulam, etc. are institutions which admit and teach this art form to people of any community.

Kalaamandalam Sivan Namboodiri: In 1965, Painkulam Raman Chakiar and Kerala Kalaamandalam jointly made efforts to bring Koodiyaattam and Chakiar Koothu outside the precincts of the temple. Sivan Namboodiri, born to Ammankottu Manakkal Madhavan Namboodiri and Devaki Antharjanam, got admission as a student of Koodiyaattam at Kalaamandalam. He was one of the three students admitted that year, and was the only person belonging to the non-Chakiar community.

Actually, Sivan had a fascination for Kathakali. But after interview, he was given a seat in Koodiyaattam course. For a Koodiyaattam performer, good knowledge of Sanskrit literature is essential. Sivan believes that he is lucky in getting a chance to study Sanskrit from a teacher like Unnikrishnan Elayathu.

in 1971, he graduated from Kalaamandalam. He was the object of many controversies, being a non-Chakiar. So also, the humiliation suffered by late Painkulam Raman Chakiar for teaching Sivan, the art of Koodiyaattam is legendary.

Later, Sivan joined Unnayi Varier Smaaraka Kalaanilayam at Irinjalakuda, though it had nothing to do with Koodiyaattam. So, he utilised this chance to study Kathakali there, from Pallippuram Gopalan Nair and Sadanam Krishnan Kutty. After a few years, he left Irinjalakuda and joined Kalaamandalam for the post-graduate scholarship course in Koodiyaattam. On completion of the course under Raman Chakiar, he joined the faculty there as an instructor, in 1976. At present (year 2000) he holds the post of senior teacher in Koodiyaattam.

He received the Kerala Sangeetha Naataka Academy Award, "Naatya Kalaa Ratnam" of Calcutta Malayali Samajam, Gold Medal of "Margi", Thiruvananthapuram and Mrinalini Sarabhai Award of "Darpana", Ahamedabad.

Sivan Namboodiri had presented Koodiyaattam in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and the United States. His performance at the Cologne Festival in W. Germany in 1980 is still widely admired by the theatre experts of the west. He also won a certificate of appreciation from the Smithsonian Institution, USA. Some of his foreign disciples are the famous theatricians of the west like Clifford Jones and Betty Jones of the US.

He is married to Indira of Koduvayur and they have two children, Manu and Manju. His address:

A M Sivan Namboodiri (Phone: 0492-354141)
"Vaisakhi", P.O.: Ethanur
Via: Koduvayur - 678 502
Palakkad Dist.

| Article No:21.4 | Last update of this article:20th October 2000 |
Article prepared by: K P C Narayanan Bhattathiripad (Phone: 0487-343681), Padinjaredath Mana, P.O.: Cherpu - 680 561, Thrissur Dist.

Editing : V M N Nambudiripad
English Translation : K D Nambudripad

Home | What is New.. | Members | Welcome, Sponsors ! | Search For.. | Your Feedback

Copyright © 2000 Namboothiri Websites Calicut. All rights reserved.