India has a rich culture of performances paying homage to the gods. Forms like the Gujarati dandiya, the chhau from West Bengal and the Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu have been around for generations. The city will be witness to another traditional Sanskrit dance-drama from Kerala, Kutiyattam, which is a theatrical form that dates back 2,000 years and was earlier only performed in temples. Kutiyattam was declared one of the ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by the UNESCO in 2001. “Earlier it used to be performed only in temples, but for the past 60 years, the drama has stepped out and explored other stages,” says Margi Madhu, who along with his troupe, will be performing in the city.
Kutiyattam is a blend of theatre with a few dance patterns (the word literally means ‘combined dancing’). The art form, which is performed at a slow pace, focuses on captivating the audience through the actors’ elaborate skills in acting and dialogue delivery. “In Kutiyattam, emphasis is laid on the Sanskrit chants and drum beats,” adds Madhu.
This particular performance will be inspired from Balivadham — an episode from the Ramayana where Sugriva, the ruler of the vanara kingdom, is convinced of Rama’s divine powers and hence, calls out to his powerful brother Vali to help him fight in order to retain his throne. “Vali’s death will be the most important part of the performance,” says Madhu.
He also explains the basic mudras of this form. “Kutiyattam has four mudras:
‘Angikam’, which means action through the body;
‘Vachikam’, which includes music and poetry;
‘Aharyam’, means make-up, costumes and stage decor, and
‘Satvikam’, the manifestation of internal feelings. Satvikam is the most significant element of all.”
“This is the first time we are performing a long show, spanning four hours, outside Kerala,” says Madhu. “We love performing in Mumbai, the audience has always appreciated the art.”
Catch the Kutiyattam performance tonight, from 6-10 pm at the Experimental Theatre, NCPA. Call 98202 90940 for details