A social commentary

Humour and satire embellish a Koothu performance.

Humour and satire embellish a Koothu performance.  

CHAKYARKOOTHU, AN ancient temple art form that attained its present perfection nearly 600 years ago, is now becoming a popular art form. Koothu, which is essentially a form of narrating a story, may be regarded as the only oral art among Kerala's classical art forms. The artiste wears a colourful costume and make-up. This art form was the monopoly of a single community called `Chakyars,' who performed it as a ritual in temples in central Kerala. But now it has come out of the temples and become the staple of festivals, particularly school youth festivals.

Chakyarkoothu was envisaged to be a continuation of the puranic style of `Soothavruthy,' the act of story telling. Most of the Hindu Puranas are in the style of narrations by a `sootha' (story teller) who is telling a story to the rishis and munis present during yajnas, mostly in places called `Nimisharanya.' The colourful attire of the present sootha, Chakyar, is only a mask. He makes use of satire to comment on social and political issues.

Koothu and Koodiyattam, confined to the four walls of koothambalams associated with great temples, were brought out of the temple by the late Painkulam Rama Chakyar. He not only brought the art form to the public platform but also taught it to students of Kalamandalam, irrespective of their cast, community or religion.

Margi Narayana Chakyar, son of Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakyar and disciple of guru Ammannoor Madhava Chakyar, presented a Chakyarkoothu at Vyllopilli Samskrithi Bhavan recently. The piece selected for telling the story was `Kiratham.' It depicts a battle between Lord Siva and Arjuna. The performance was announced in the typical fashion of `Mizhavanakkal' as in the `Kottiamaral' in Kathakali. Then, the Chakyar entered the stage and after the 15-minute long `Nithyakriya,' the formalities of starting a Koothu, he started narrating the story.

It was commendable that the small audience did not affect his performance in any way. Narayana Chakyar managed to make the performance an interesting one by adding humour and satire in between. The one-and-a-half-hour-long performance touched upon contemporary politics and other social issues. This indirect attack on socio-political issues uplifted the performance from the mundane and made it relevant to our times.

Mizhavu is the only percussion instrument used for this performance. Margi Ramanunni played his part well. Such attempts to preserve and popularise this art form ought to be encouraged.


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