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Thitambu Nritham

North Kerala has many rich art traditions, of which "Thitambu Nritham" is one. It is mainly performed by Namboothiris of this part of Kerala, and rarely other Braahmanan communities, say for example, Embranthiris. Late Vethiramana Sreedharan Namboodiri could easily be called the "Father of Thitambu Nritham". Luckily this ritualistic art form has not died out with his withdrawal from the stage. Nearly thirty disciples are carrying on the great tradition in the north.

This ancient and unique art form gained recognition recently when an award was instituted for the first time. The recipient is none other than Kesavan Embranthiri, a disciple of Vethiramana Sreedharan Namboodiri, and a devotee and performer for four decades.

Thitambu Nrityam is pure dance, completely absorbed in, and regulated by, rhythm (Thaalam) which is "Layam". Surprisingly, it has not been included among the temple arts of Kerala, though connoisseurs admit that this is an art, and a ritualistic one. As the dancer comes out carrying the replica of the idol on his head, the "Maaraar" (hereditary drummer in temples) makes the characteristic drumming when Thaanthric rites are performed.

The word "Thitambu" suggests the direct manifestation of the deity. Idols being carried on top of elephants during festivals as also replicas beings held on shoulders while dancing to the rhythm of percussion instruments are a common sight in Kerala. But, dancing with the replicas on the heads, is a unique feature in the North.

The origin of Thitambu Nritham cannot be easily traced. Some Braahmanans who had migrated to the North of Kerala at the time of Chirakkal Raja may have introduced this dance from Karnataka where a form of "Nritham" called "Darsana Bali" was in vogue.

Replicas are made of bamboo with which a beautiful frame with intricate designs is created. The priestly dancer, clad in the traditional style after performing the usual rituals, comes out of the sanctorum, and standing under the flag, holds aloft the replica weighing about 10 kg on his head and starts the divine dance.

The dance begins with "Kotti Urayikkal" (drumming to make the dancer possessed). The drumming in different Thaalams accompanied by scintillating music coaxes the performer to dance to each rhythm, creating a holy atmosphere. Each circumlocution is regulated by a different Thaalam.

Thitambu Nritham has undergone some changes in accordance with the trend of the times, says Atimana Krishnan Namboodiri, an expert in this field. The changes are in the Thaalams, though the basic one remains unchanged. The innovation adds to the novelty and variety of this art, according to him.

There is no scope for emotional expressions in this art. An exception is famous "Kootippiriyal" (parting of lord Krishna and Balarama) at Trichambaram. The occasion is very touching with thousands watching with tearful joy, Krishna and Balarama playing about wildly until the former runs after the milkman carrying milk, and the latter returns to his dwelling some distance away. There is a legend woven round the Thitambu Nritham of Thrichambaram. There was an ardent devotee of lord Krishna - a Namboothiri. He visited the temple everyday, seeking Krishna's blessings. Time flew. He grew old, so old that he couldnot walk upto the temple half a kilometer away. Inwardly crushed at his physical incapacity, he prayed : "Krishna, my dear, I cannot come to you; forgive me". Legend has it that, that night, lord Krishna ran up to him with his brother Balarama and danced along what is called "Pookkottu Nada" just in front of the Namboothiri's house. The wonder and delight of the Namboothiri can well be imagined. The famous festival at Trichambaram which goes on from 22nd Kumbham to 6th Meenam (middle March) is in celebration of that event. During the festival, the "Melsaanthis" of Trichambaram and Mazhoor (Balarama's temple) hold aloft the replicas of the two deities and dance to the scintillating rhythm of percussion instruments.

Another legend goes like this : A Namboothiri used to sit in meditation under a nux vomica tree [Botanical name : Stricnos nuxvomica; Mal. - "Kaanjiram"]. He had sores all over his body. The fruit that occasionally fell on his body gave him excruciating pain. In agony he cried out a curse : "Let this tree bear no fruit any longer". Even today the tree bears no fruit, though it has leaves. It is interesting that during the festival, the dancing Namboothiri priests place the idols of various gods in a small "Mandapam" under the tree. People pay obeisance to the deities here.




Puthumana Govindan Namboodiri (b. 1960) of Puthumana Illam, Chemmattam Vayal, Kanhangad, is a famous Thitambu Nritham artiste at temples. He has performed at almost all the temples (about 150) in North Kerala during the past 25 years. His Guru is Madamana Sankaran Embranthiri (68), winner of Badhiramana Award for senior Thitambu Nritham artists. His "Arangettam" was at Sree Athiyampoor Subrahmania Swamy Temple, Kanhangad, during the Shashthhi Uthsavam in 1979. He was inspired by the late Thekkillam Kesavan Embranthiri the first Badhiramana Award winner, as well as another senior artiste, Puthussery Krishnan Embranthiri. His fame extends from Thalassery in the south to Mangalore in the north.

He follows entirely "Thekkan Saili" (southern style) and has excelled in this area. He has received many honours during the past years from well-known temples. Initially he had performed in the Dooradarsan telecast on "Kshethra kalakal" (temple arts).

His style of performing Thitambu Nritham is unique and makes attractive to the viewers even without the knowledge of this divine art. He keeps all the conventional styles as such with variations coming under the new trend. He always says, "I perform Thitambu Nritham with 'Bhakthi' (devotion), which is the secret of my success".

He lives as a pure Namboothiri with "Sandhyaavandanam" and Pooja, and maintains the old traditions of the community. A majority of his fans believes that the honours received by him so far is not sufficient to fully reflect his excellence and dedication in this field.

Wife: Radhamani Antharjanam. Has 2 sons: Puthumana Govindan (Mechanical Engineer), Puthumana Easwaran (Hardware Engineer)
- Kodoth Rajan


An artiste of promise in Thitambu Nritham is Puthumana Sankaran Namboodiri. Born in 1966 at Vadasseri, 10 kM from Kankal in Payyannur, this devout young man has acquired great skill in this art. He had his initiation into Thitambu Nritham during the annual festival at Payyannur Siva Temple. It was the famous Thanthri, Rajan Nambudiripad (Edavalath Putayoor Illam) who urged him to take this up as a profession. His grandfather, who was a good performer, supplied this inspiration. Sankaran did not have any Guru as such, but learned this art through observation, interest and inborn talent. He has seen great performers dance to the rhythm of drumming on percussion instruments. Sankaran Namboodiri has performed in more than a hundred temples and won appreciation and awards from his admirers. Every year he performs at Nanganallur Ayyappa Temple in Chennai. He has delighted crowds in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. His wife is Sathi. They have a son and a daughter - Harikrishnan and Haripriya.

- Prof: K P C Vasudevan Bhattathiripad


Sreerama Aggithaya is a distinguished Namboothiri Thitambu Nritham artiste who has performed in many temples of Kerala especially in Kannur and Kasaragod districts. Born in 1958 at Thachangad Illam in Kasaragod district, he is the son of P Narayanan Aggithaya who himself was a good Thitambu Nritham dancer and provided the impetus to take this up as a profession. The "Arangettam" was at Mukkarangod Sri Sastha Temple in 1968. The very first performance showed signs of great promise. Sreerama has not looked back ever since. Every year he performs his unique dance in 110 temples in Kerala and Karnataka. It is a measure of his fame that people even in Karnataka crowd to the temples where he is a performer.

The awards he has received are numerous.

Every year Sreerama Aggithaya gets invitations from new temples. Such is his popularity. It is a reflection on his devotion to this divine art that he is giving training to many aspiring youngsters. Further, he is doing research on the origin, development, scope and peculiarities of this art and intends to bring out an authentic book. The purpose is to rejuvenate Thitambu Nritham, which is facing eclipse.

Aggithaya believes that unless the performer has a sense of beat, knowledge of "Thalam" (rhythm) and a feeling that he is holding the Supreme Being on his head, the Nritham will be mere jerks and twists.

- Prof: K P C Vasudevan Bhattathiripad


[Details about 1 and 5 are being collected. - EDITOR]

| Article No:35.6 | Last update of this article:9th February 2006 |
Article by : Prof: K P C Vasudevan Bhattathiripad (Padinjaredath Mana) "Saarasam", Karimbam, Taliparamba - 670 142, Kannur Dist. Phone : 0498-204670

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