Traditional Theatre Festival 

The Southern Regional Centre of IGNCA organized Rangollasa – a traditional theatre festival at Bangalore from December, 12 to 16th 2003.  Troupes from all the four Southern states were invited to participate in the festival, which hosted both performances and seminar.  It was for the first time that such an event had been organized in South India.  Besides the magnitude of the event the unique feature was the follow up of each perorfmance with a seminar where scholars and invitee observers discussed the changes and influences on the theatre forms.

Traditional forms and troupes which represented the different styles were: Badaguthittu Yakshagana by Udupi Yakshagana Kalakendra, Udupi; Tenkuthittu Yakshagana by Yakshagana Kalaranga, Udupi;Moodalapaya by Sri Ranganatha Yakshagana Mandali, Tumkur Dist,; Sannata by Sri Krishna Seva Janapada Natya Sangh, Belgaum; Sri Krishna Parijata by Sri Manjunatha Sri Krishna Parijatha Bailata Company, Mudhol from Karnataka; Chindu Yakshagana by Nizamabad Zilla Chindu Sangam, Hyderabad; and Kuchuipudi Bhagavatamelam by Sri Siddendra Kala Kshetram, Kuchipudi; from Andhra Pradesh; Therukoothu by Sri Purusai Kannappa Thambiran Troupe, Chennai; and Mellattur Bhagavathamela by Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Vidya Sangam, Tanjavur from Tamil Nadu and Koodiyattam by Margi, Thiruvananthapuram;Kathakali by  Margi, Thiruvananthapuram and Krishnanaattam by Kshetrakalanilayam Krishnanaattam Troupe, Guruvayur from Kerala.  Panelists who particpated were: Dr. Basavaraja Malashetty, Dr. dhoopat, Dr. G.S. Hegde, Prof. Heranje Krishana Bhat, Sri Raghava Nambiar, Dr, P. Nagaraj, Dr. Narayana Kurup, Dr. C. Rajendran and Dr. Shivaraju.

The performances and seminars were well attended.  On the whole Rangollasa turned out to be an extremely educative and meaningful academic exercise.

Hon’ble Member of Parliament Sri Ananth Kumar inaugurated the festival and renowned dancer Dr. Kanak Rele delivered the keynote address.  The Academic Session was inaugurated by Shri Y.K. Muddukrishna, Director, Kannada and Culture, Government of Karanataka.  The valedictory address was by well-known Kannada litterateur and former Vice Chancellor of Hampi University, Dr. Chandrashekhar Kambar.  The session was presided by Prof. Indra Nath Choudhuri, Academic Director, IGNCA.

The multi-media unit of IGNCA has documented the performances and interviews.


 Review of Performances and Deliberation

Koodiyattam is one of the most ancient living theatrical traditions using Sanskrit plays for its production.  Koodiyattam finds its expression in ‘Koottambalam’ (auditorium), an inseparable part of temples in Kerala.  This art is practiced and propagated by the Chakkiar community.  Hence it is also known by the name – Chakkiar Kootu.  Both men and women particpate in this tradition and they generally adopt the classics of Kalidasa, Bhasa, Sriharsha, Pallava Mahendra Varms, Kulasekhara, Saktibhadra etc.  the stage adoption is elaborate and highly stylized.  They follow the stage manuals such as Attaprakaram, Karma Dipika, Hastalakshana Dipika etc. Their costume is semi realistic and the stage mannerisms are highly stylized.  Cymbals, idakkai and a unique percussion instrument ‘milavu’ and flute are used in the orchestra.  Generally the Nangyars (women) sing while the Nambiyars (male) play the insturments.  Nangyars also play the female roles.  Language changes from Sanskrit to Prakrit and even to classical Malayalam.

The vachikam of Koodiyattam resembles the Vedic chanting tradition of Kerala.  The songs are set to several ancient ragas.  The antiquity of Koodiyattam goes to 10th century A.D.   It is said that King Kulasekhara Varma structured this art and employed his own Sanskrit plays Tapatisamvaranam and Subhadradhananjayam for the repertory.

Krishnanattam is a product of Bhagavata or Krishna cult of pan Indian feature structured very uniquely as per the ethos of Kerala by the King Manaveda Samudiri of Kozhikode during 16-17 centuries A.D. Scholar, poet and a great devotee Melpattur Narayana Bhattativi’s complete story of Krishna starting from his birth and concluding in Swargaroha is set to eight parts in this theatrical form.  The whole production depends, for its lyrics, on Krishnagiti of King Marnaveda.  Now this art form is restricted to the Guruvayur temple.

The orchestra includes chendai, Shuddha maradalam, cymbals and jayaghanta. No swaravadyam is employed.  The movements are stylized yet simple and borrow much of the hasta-abhinayam andMukhajabhinagam from Koodiyattam.  Very little nrttahastas and charis are employed.  Music is of typical sopanam style.

Kathakali : ‘Kathakali’ literally means ‘story through action’ (katha-kali).  This is an offshoot of Krishnanaattam, also influenced by the Koodiyattam techniques.  However, today Kathakali is the most popular traditional theatrical practice of Kerala.  Especially after the reformations of poet Vallathol Menon and the establishment of Kalamandalam school of arts, this art has seen many heights and changes.  The themes are naturally mythological (but now a days many other themes including the non India, social, historical and fictitious ones are all successfully tried) and superhuman.  The makeup and costume are metaworldly.  Music is a by bird of Sopabam and Crarantic styles.  Lyrics are composed in highly Sanskritised Malayalam called manipravalam. 

Kathakali, inspired by Krishnanaattam was formulated by Ramanattam in 17th century and this was later reformed in the present form.  there are three schools of Kathakali suggesting the southern (Kamplim Kattu) and northern (Kalladi kattu) regional preferences and yet another school by the name ‘Vettattu’.  However, the differences are minor.

Yakshagana : It is a very broad form of South Indian traditional theatre where many varieties and sub varieties of theatrical practices are enshrined.  A rough classification may be done as shown below.


– Andhra Pradesh

   – Kuchipudi Bhagavatamelam

   – Turpu (Eastern) Bhagavatamelam

   – Chindu Yakshaganam (Several other groups of this art based on caste groups)

   – Melattur Bhagavatamelam (a migration to Tamil Nadu)


– Karanataka

   – Coastal Yakshagana

   – Tenkutittu (Southern School)

   – Badagu Tittu (Northern School)

   – Bada Badagu Tittu (Northern most)

   – Malanad yakshagana (Ghottada Kore)


– Eastern Yakshagana

   – Moodala Paaya

   – Kelike

   – Doddata


However, of late it is only the coastal Yakshagana of Karnataka which has retained and propagated this name to a great extent, while the other forms have to be identified with prefixes or suffixes.  Hence for the present introduction we are using the word Yakshagana mainly to the adaptations of coastal Karnataka viz. Tenku and Badagu (inclusive of the northernmost school).

Though we have sufficient evidences to show that Karnataka had a rich heritage of traditional practices similar to Yakshagna since 9th century A.D. an explicit traceable history of Yakshagana goes to the early Vijayanagar period (around 14th century).  All tjhe schools of Yakshagana including Moodalapaya and Donddata of Karnataka have the same text (prasanga) for enactment.  But only in execution they have regional variations which may as well be attributed to temperamental differences or preferences identified by the term ‘pravritti’ in Natyashastra.  Their costume though varied in style, has many similarities. This is evident even in the nature of music but the stage techniques are identical.  Only in the dance movement one can see a few variations.

(i) Tenkutittu Yakshagana : In this style the costume and makeup are very colourful.  Especially the demonic characters are super human and metaworldly.  But the dance movements are limited and the variety is little.  But the spontaneous conversation, very much and original and unique feature of the tow (three) schools of coastal yakshagana, has seen its supreme heights.

(ii) Badagutittu Yakshagana: The costumes and make up of this school are not as gaudy as those of the Tenkutittu School.  They are more elegant and sublime.  Even the dance movements as preserved today (especially in the Kundapur – Udupi style) have a high degree of grace and vibrancy.

Moodalapaya Yakshagana is on the decline.  Very few trained troupes peform this form.

Doddata in many ways resembles Moodalapya.  the orchestra is also the same.  Even the costumes resemble much.  The dancer movements have many echoes from Natyashastra.  The again is an almost extinct art form.


Chindu Yakshagana belongs to the Telangana province of Andhra.  Chindu literally means a leap.  It is also the name of a subcaste in dalit community.  The people of this subcaste in dalit community.  The people of this subcaste have their own puranic roots similar to the other castes of Andhra and they base their theatrical practices on these stories apart from our epics and myths.

Melattur Bhagavata Melam : The migration of Kuchipudi Bhagavata melam during the 17th century under the patronage of the Nayaks of Tanjavur heralded a new era better known as ‘Dakshni andhrayuga’.  A rich class of Telugu poetry, music, dance and drama were recreated in the Tanjavur province of Tamil Nadu.  Hence the three villages viz. Melattur, Uttakkadu and Sulamangalam around Tanjavur harboured the Bhagavata mela tradition since 300 years.  Here the troupes consist only of Brahmin actors and norchestra.  The themes are drawn from the epics and the puranas as usual.  The language of the songs and preset dialogue is Telugu but it has  changed a lot due to a strong influence of Tamil these days.  Though the dance movements once upon a time resembled the Kuchipudi style, today they are completely the Sadirnrttam of Tanjavur School.  However, the stage techniques are still preserved.

Kuchipudi Bhagavatam : This is yet another type of Yakshagana in its original form.  However, during the 20th century, it changed a lot and has metamorphosised from the state of a dance drama (Natya) to mere dance (nrtya).

Kuchipudi Yakshaganam has a traceable history of over 600 years.  The Krishna cult inspired by the writings of Jayadeva took a pan Indian dance drama orientation to which Kuchipudi is no exception.

Terukkottu : is yet another south Indian traditional the atrical form from Tamil Nadu.  Terukkoottu literally means a street play.  In the Tamil classic Silappadikaram, we see the references to several types of dances and dramas including the Koottu.  The present Terukkoottu to a large extent resembles Moodalapaya or the Doddata of Karnataka and the Chindu Yakshagana of Andhra.  Even the form in its true sense is classical.  We can trace the history of this art to not less than 600 years in its present (current) form.  The language is simple and direct, music is an adaptation of the classical Carnatic idiom.  Though the movements of pure dance are less, stage movements are ample and are ture to the tradition of Natyashastra.

Sri Krishnaparijatha : Unlike the Koottu, Kathakali,  Yakshaganam and Koodiyattam (which belong to the genre of Rupaka as per the classical tradition of Bharata) Sri Krishnaparijatha and Sannata represent the tradition of Uparupakas as explained in the classical texts of Abhinavagupta, Bhojaraja, Saradatanaya etc., But unlike several Uparupaka varieties which are mainly nrtya patterns (dance measures), these are typical natya varieties.  Sri Krishnaparijatha of Northern Karnataka evolved during the second half of nineteenth century (1870 A.D.).

Sannata : Like Parijatha this is also an uparupaka form from North Karnataka.  Scholars trace such formats to the patterns of ‘Pagarana’. ‘Snagu’ and ‘Hagulu Vesha’ found even in the works of 9th century A.D. These are all similar to musical operas, drawing a lot from the world as it is.  No divine characters are involved.  The present Sannata form, mainly the Sangyabalya was orally developed in 1860 A.D. and was later brought to a script form in 1920 A.D.  This has a very strong influence of Marathi theatre.  The play ‘Sangyabalya’ is based on a real life story.  The language is simple, music is catchy and the conversations are witty.

Total Obseration :

By going through the history, development, practice and discussions of these major traditional theatrical practices of South India, the following observations may be made in brief.

(i)     Without exception, all of them follow the footpring of India values and classical aesthetics.

(ii)    Excepting one or two (Sannata etc.) all of them adopt our ancient epic and puranic themes.

(iii)   All of them follow an ideal theatrical system that is intimate and imaginative.  This is vey much in accordance with the Natyasastra tradition.

(iv)   The costume and makeup are highly stylized and metawordly.  Even the language is so.  This is true to the spirit of Bharata.

(v)    Though the dance movements are not intact in all the schools of traditional theatres, may measures are identifiable and some are perfectly related to the source of Bharata.

(vi)   The stage mannerisms, practices and techniques such as entury, exit Arthopakshepa, Nandi, Purvaranga, Bharatavakya (mangala), Mandalaparikrama, patra (Characterization) etc. are all 100 per cent matched with the Natyashastric prescription.

(vii)   The music, though very much changed, has the basis of a sound classical format faithfully adhering to the broad based system of sruti-laya and raga-tala.]

(viii)   The lyrics follow, without exception the format of the Dhruva-s of Natyashastra and the prose/verse conversation is very true of the tradition of Sanskrit drama.

To conclude, these traditional theatrical practices and their practitioners faithfully follow Bharata and his code without the literal knowledge of the same.  Thus any one can unfailingly realize a living tradition of Natyashastra and a glowing illustration of one Indian cultural soul.

Reviews by – Dr. R. Ganesh,

Report by – Dr. Pramila Lochan

Southern Regional Centre, Bangalore


Newsletter | List of Newsletter ]