Kerala Theater

Koothu and Koodiyattam

Koothu Koothu and Kudiyattam are considered to be earliest theatrical art forms of Kerala. Koothu is mono-act in which a single actor, the Chakiar acts the role of all the characters to the accompaniment of the mizhavu played by the Nambiar and the cymbals by the Nangiar He expounds Puranic stories drawing parallels from contemporary life in order to emphasize a point or relate a moral from the stories he is narrating. It is the Chakiars privilege to crack jokes even at the expense of the dignitaries present in the audience. If the person who is the target of the attack were resent, the Chakiar will wind up the performance and leave the theater.

Kutiyattam is a theatrical presenter in which both the Chakiar and Nangiar act together. It is the earliest form of dramatic art in Kerala and it seeks to present full-fledged Sanskrit drama or select portions there of. In a way it is a highly evolved form of Kuthu. More than two or three actors appear on the stage at the same time as in modern drama. The Chakiar performs the role of the male characters and the Nangiars that of the female characters. The Nangiars also sound the cymbals and recite the Sanskrit verses which Chakiar enacts. The costumes in Kutiyattam vary according to the characters. Kutiyattam is not a popular art today as Kathakali and it is performed only in a few major temples of Kerala like Irinjalakuda, Perumanam, Kottiyur etc.


A theatrical art which developed under the auspices of the churches in Kerala is the Chavittunatakam which is now almost defunct. It was evolved as a Christian alternative to the Hindu Kathakali. In Chavittunatakam the actors not only speak or sing but also stamp on the wooden platform with their feet to the tune of songs and beating of drums. It is because acting and stamping form important elements in Chavittunatakam that it has come to be called so – chavittu means stamping with the feet and natakam means drama. The movement of the actors on the stage are more lively and vigorous than graceful or artistic.

Modern Drama

The theater in Kerala had its formal beginnings in the Kutha mbalam. In the latter half of the 19th century the Malayalam drama made its debut with the tradition of Abhijnana. Sakuntalam by Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran (1890), and its successful presentation on the stage. The successful enactment of Tamil music plays by drama troupes from Tamil Nadu in different parts of Kerala helped to accelerate this trend. The composition of a series of short plays with historical themes by C. V. Raman Pillai and their enactment by amateur clubs in Trivandrum opened a new chapter in the evolution of the Modern Malayalam theater. The increasing popularity of the Malayalam dramas as a medium of popular entertainment has given a boost to the professional theater in Kerala. Professional troupes like K.P.A.0 (Kerala People’s Arts Club), the Kalidasa Kala Kendram and Kalanilayam have made their mark in this field.

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