Chakyar Koothu is a traditional art form of Kerala. It is a satirical solo performance where the performer narrates Hindu epics (Ramayana or Mahabharatha) stories. You can connect this to modern stand-up comedy. In Chakyar Koothu, sometimes even socio-political issues are also taken up. The performer can attack with personal comments also to the audience. In fact, the Chakyar had the rights to intimidate the King too. It is all taken in a very sportive way.
Koothu means dance, but in Chakyar Koothu choreography holds no importance. Facial expressions are more important and what attracts the audience is the wit and wisdom of the Chakyar’s. This used to be performed only in Koothambalam. It is a place inside the Hindu temples specifically designed for Koothu and Kudiyattom. The performance takes place during the temple festival celebrations. When Koothu was popular, the caste-system was in its peak in Kerala. Chakyar is a community name and the Chakyar will perform along with Nambiar community.
Makeup and Costume
The narrator will have distinct headgear which resembles snake’s hood; like the serpent Anantha. On the face, a huge black moustache is drawn. His torso will be smeared with sandalwood paste. Red dots using Vermillion will be marked all over the body.
“Champu Prabandha” is a Sanskrit style of storytelling and Chakyar Koothu is based on this. It is a mixture of prose and poetry. The Chakyar starts with a prayer to the deity, narrates the story in Sanskrit and explains in Malayalam. Humour and narration will make you sit and watch this artform. Mizhavu and illathalam are 2 musical instruments used in Chakyar Koothu. Mani Madhava Chakyar is the person who made Chakyar koothu and Koodiyattom art forms popular among the public. Mani Madhava Chakyar was later honoured with Padmashree. Late Painkulam Raman Chakyar and Ammannur Madhava Chakyar were some prominent performers of this art form in the 20th century.
Photo by sanpar32
Ottamthullal includes both dance and poem like Chakyar Koothu. Mridangam and idakka accompany the dance. Ottamthullal’s classical principles are taken from Natya Sastra which was originated in the 2nd century B.C. Thullal means to jump or leap in Tamil. Presenting epics, social and political issues with wit and satire made Thullal very popular among the common people. Even Mahabharatha’s Bhima was not spared by Kunchan Nambiar! He used to make fun of the local VIPs during the performances.
From Koothu to Thullal
Ottamthullal or Thullal was introduced in the 18th century by Malayalam poet Kunchan Nambiar. His poems are witty and humorous. The story behind Thullal is very interesting. Earlier, Kunchan Nambiar used to play Mizhavu (percussion instrument) during Chakyar Koothu. During the performance of Koothu, Kunchan Nambiar dozed off and was caught by the Chakyar. He got irritated and asked Kunchan Nambiar to leave the stage, after insulting him. Kunchan Nambair felt very insulted and decided to introduce a new artform. He conceived Thullal within a day and performed it the next day evening. The Chakyar complained to the Chambakasery king and he banned Thullal in Ambalapuzha Temple complex.
Photo by TheSeafarer
Ottamthullal is also performed by a single person. Green-coloured face with a colourful costume that has long red and white bands are used in Ottamthullal. You can see wooden ornaments with colourful paintings. Once Nehru said that Ottamthullal as poor man’s Kathakali. Ottamthullal is performed in Malayalam only which made it easier for the common people to understand. Mathur Panikker is the person who popularised the Ottamthullal to the modern generation. He used Ottamthullal to spread social messages to the public. Ottamthullal is closely related to Seethankan Thullal and Parayan Thullal. Kalyana Soughathikam is the famous work in this dance form.
Featured Photo by Paul Varuni