‘Dasamam’ Koothu, said to have been last staged 150 years ago, was performed recently by Aparna Nangiar.

Many Indian art forms are ritualistic as well as enriched with artistic flavour. Often, the two intertwine. Many of these art forms have been preserved thanks to the dedication and devotion of zealous artistes and enthusiasts.

Koodiyattam and its offshoot Nangiarkoothu falls into this category. Aparna Nangiar, daughter of Ammannoor Kuttan Chakyar and an aspiring artiste, recently performed ‘Dasamam’ Koothu. It is said that this particular Koothu was last performed 150 year ago.

In ‘Dasamam’ Koothu, the story of Lord Krishna, from his birth to his death, is enacted fully, and is taken from the tenth chapter (Dasama skanda) of the Bhagavatham.

‘Dasamam’ Koothu is traditionally performed near the cremation ground (chudala) during the rites following the death of an Akkithiripad (one who presides over the ritual Athiraathram).Hence, it is also known as ‘Chudalakoothu’ . Certain conditions have to be met for this koothu to be performed. The Akkithiripad had to be from the Aswalayana sect, his wife had to be alive and the death had to be natural. The rare chance of all these conditions being met adds to the rarity of the performance. Ancient manuscripts owned by the Panthal family at Rappal, Thrissur district, who are scholars and guides to various Vedic rituals, refer to this koothu.

According to legend, the origin of ‘Dasamam’ Koothu itself is an interesting story. Once, while celestial maidens were performing the play ‘Lakshmi Naarayanam’ under the stewardship of Sage Bharatha, one among them, Grithachi, failed to deliver her dialogue at a particular juncture, having been struck dumb by the soul of an Akkithiripad that entered heaven. An angry Bharata cursed her and sent her to earth. In order to mitigate the curse, the sage suggested that she narrate the stories of Lord Krishna near the cremation ground where an Akkithiripad was being cremated.

“The opportunity to perform Dasamam has inspired me a lot and I am working on the theatrical possibilities of the tenth chapter of the Bhagavatham,” observed Aparna. “Lesser known or almost extinct texts such as this have to be rejuvenated and the role of females and their characters have to be further studied,” she added.

‘Dasamam’ Koothu concludes with mudiyakkitha, the signature act at the end of every Koodiyattam, stressing the fact that this is a total play. Another dimension is that the female character performs the mudiyakkitha, besides the entire story of Krishna.