Kooth – An art form that connects with the audience
Kooth – a traditional art form of Kerala performed in temples. The word kooth is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Koorda’ meaning Kreeda or play. There are two types of kooth in Kerala – Chakyar kooth and Tholpaava kooth. . Chakyar Kooth is the dramatical representation of Sanskrit while Tholpaava kooth, the stage performance of Tamil drama. Chakyarkooth give preference to comedy and mockering while the other one, uses songs from Kamba Ramayana – Tamil Ramayana and use shadows and hence it can also be called as Nizhal kooth. Chakyar kooth performer recites Sanskrit poems while performing in the stage. Also, it connects well with the audience by telling jokes and making fun of them.
Thol pava kooth – Toys are the actors
Koothu maadam – the place where paavakooth is conducted, is arranged outside the temple. Earlier, low caste people were not allowed inside the temple. So, such art forms were done to entertain such ‘avaranar’.
A black curtain will be tied in front of audience and toys of Rama, Sugriva etc will be placed inside the curtain. Some lamps will also the lightened. So, this art form is done behind black curtain with the help of lamp lights. Songs are explained in Palakkad Tamil – Sanskrit mixed language. ‘Sri Rama avatar’ to ‘Pathabhishekam’ – stories within this period is normally used for performance. This art form has helped a lot in enriching Kerala culture.
Kooth of Chakyar – the real fun to watch
Chakyars are seen as the representatives of Soothan who tells Purana stories in the kingdom of Saunakami. Earlier, it was conducted only in temples and was exclusively done by a caste group. It has two parts – drama acting and story prediction. Drama acting was earlier known as kooth. When it’s performed in single, it’s known as kooth while it becomes koodiyattam, when performed as a group. Now it’s normally used in story prediction/telling.
Chakyar performs in the costume of Vidooshaka. He uses rice powder to draw lines across his chest, hands and face. He put red spots on 14 parts of his body including nose and cheeks. He uses thick kajal to draw eyes. Then he uses some accessories as well to make him look like a vidooshaka. Of all the 9 rasas, he uses ‘hasyam’ while performing this art form. He uses stories from puranas for his performance.
Behind the kooth
Instruments used for kooth are mizhav and kuzhithaalam. Mizhav is a brass pot and its mouth is covered by a skin. Nambiars use their hands to beat mizhav, while chakyar is performing his kooth. On its right side, a group of nangyars ( a caste) sit on a cloth and use the instrument kuzhithaalam. A big lamp will be lighten in front and chakyar performs his act. There is no other equipment except a stool, if chakyar needs to sit while performing.
Before the kooth begins, mizhav is used to make sound. Then actor faces the lamp and starts ‘chaari’ – a type of dance. After chaari, it’s vidooshika strothram. Praying the diety and peetika are the next steps. After peetika, the performer should praise the audience and pray for them. ‘Rakhsha Purushan’ is determined in accordance to the story selected for the play.
After upakramam, actor enters the story telling. It begins with the explanation of the situation. This is known as ‘Samkshepam’ and slokas are recited one after the other. So, the processes from ‘Mizhavu Ochapeduthal’ to ‘Sakshepam’ are collectively known as ‘Poorva Rangam’. Then real story telling begins. Sanskrit slokas are used and its explanation in Malayalam given. This part is the real ingredient of Chakyar kooth.
Chakyars often tell stories, calling people from audience and even mocker them. For example, if he sleeps or talks while he is performing. Thus it gives a good entertainment to the audience, particularly when someone is pointed at.
Thullal and Chakyar kooth
Thullal – another art form was first performed by Kunjan Nambiar and it has a deep relation with Chakyar kooth. While his guru was performing Chakyar kooth in a temple, Kunjan Nambiar was among the group who used Mizavu. But, somehow, he slept and when his guru teased and made him fun in the open stage, Kunjan nambiar was deeply hurt. Next day, he performed another art form in the same temple – Ambalapuzha Sri Krisha temple and it got more appreciation than kooth. This art form was none other than Othan Thullal. It has two more versions as well – Parayan Thullal and Sheethangan Thullal.
Kooth has some hidden dangers
Earlier, chakyars used many risky steps during its performance. Using strange equipments, floating, jumping from heights, blood bathe etc are some of them. In parakkum kooth (flying kooth), chakyar disguised as Garuda, need to fly from top and reach the ground. He needs to move each and every body part. It was done with the help of strings. A simple mistake can cause a lot of dangers.
Koodiyattam – kooth performed as group
It’s performed in temples by a group of chakyars. Since it’s performed by a group, it’s known as koodiyattam. But nowdays, story recital of chakyar is known as kooth and their theatric performance as a group is known as koodiyattam.
Chakyar to perform, Namyar to use instruments, Nangyar to sing, lady performers are nangyars – if this art form is performed in traditional way. Instrumenst used for koodiyattam are mizhav, kuzhithaalam, idakka, kuzhal and shankh of which mizhav is most important. Some symbols of prosperity, completely related to Kerala culture are also placed in front of the lamp before the performance starts. They use four types of acts – vaachikam, aangikam, saathvikam and aahaaryam.
The place where worship is done through kooth is known as koothambalam. Ambalam means temple in Malayalam. So, it’s a home of such acts (Naatya graham). Certain specifications are given in Natya shastra on how such koothambalams are to be constructed. Such koothambalams are most seen in Kerala now.
Now, kooth is performed in school and college competitions as well, where we can see small kids and youths performing Kooth. Yes, it’s a good entertaining art form that has not lost its mesmerizing power and popularity till now. It combines both stories and songs and performers’ lively performance and screen presence make it still popular among the crowds.
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