The Info List - Kattaikkuttu

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KATTAIKKUTTU is a rural theatre form practiced in the State of Tamil Nadu in South India
. The performers – by tradition only men - sing, act and dance and the musicians accompany them on the harmonium , the _mridangam _ and the _mukavinai_. The terms TERUKKUTTU and Kattaikkuttu are often used interchangeably. However, historically the two terms appear to have distinguished, at least in certain villages, between two different kinds of performance: while _Terukkuttu_ referred to mobile performances by two actors participating in a procession for the village deity Mariamman , _Kattaikkuttu_ denotes overnight, narrative performances at a fixed performance space acted by an ensemble of about fifteen actors and musicians.


* 1 History * 2 Repertory * 3 Style * 4 About the Gurukulam * 5 References * 6 Further reading * 7 External links


Kattaikkuttu derives its name from the word _kattai_, which refers to the special ornaments worn by the actors during performances; _kuttu_ refers to theatre. The audience recognizes the various characters by the shapes of their head wear and their make-up.

Kattaikkuttu has been performed in rural Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
for years. In November 1990, a group of seventeen rural actors and musicians founded, on the initiative of Kattaikkuttu actor Perungattur _P. Rajagopal_, an organization to promote their theatre in the town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. They called this grassroots collective the _ Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Kattaikkuttu Kalai Valarcci Munnerra Sangam_ using the name of Kattaikkuttu rather than one of the current terms of _Kuttu_ or _Terukkuttu_. The main objectives of the _Sangam_ – an officially registered society - were to promote Kattaikkuttu as a theatre form in its own right and to further the interests of professional performers. Since its inception more than twenty years ago, the Sangam has developed into an umbrella organization with a number of activities including educating and training a future generation of young, talented Kattaikkuttu performers (_the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam_), opening up the theatre to rural girls and women, organization of an annual theatre festival and production of new and often innovative plays. In 2009 the organization shortened its name into _Kattaikkuttu Sangam_.


Many traditional performances center on the enactment of parts of the Mahabharata ; a few plays have Purana
stories as their theme. To cater to a renewed interest in the theatre from urban audiences and cultural institutions, new plays of shorter and all-night duration have also been created. These plays have been successfully performed in Indian metros and abroad and have been assimilated into the repertory of the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam’s Young Professionals Company.

A few of the core plays of the traditional Kattaikkuttu repertory are:

* _The Bending of the Bow_ or _ Draupadi ’s Marriage_ * _ Subhadra ’s Marriage_ * _The Royal Sacrifice_ * _The Disrobing of Draupadi_ * _ Arjuna ’s Penance_ * _Kichaka’s Battle_ * _ Krishna
’s Embassy_ * _ Karna Moksham_ * _The Eighteenth Day (featuring Duryodhana ’s death on the battlefield of Kurukshetra
)_ * _Dakshya’s Sacrifice_ * _HiranyaVilasam_

Kattaikkuttu is usually performed in a religious setting and performances take place overnight: they start around 10pm and run until 6am the next morning. The occasions for Kattaikkuttu performances can be divided into the following categories:

* Paratam (Mahabharata) festivals in honor of the Goddess * Other village festivals such as those for Mariyamman, Ankalamman, Shiva and Vishnu * Rites of individuals such as death rites * Secular occasions e.g. cultural festivals

The Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam is regularly visited by prominent scholars in the theatre world--for example, Bennington College professor Sue Rees regularly visits the school to produce short videos and documentaries which feature various Kattaikkuttu works.


Kattaikkuttu derives its name from the fact that a specific category of actors wear the so-called _kattai_ or _kattai samankal_. Kattai are wooden head, shoulder and the breast ornaments inlaid with mirror work. The kattai represent power, heroic qualities and royalty. The kattai-wearers represent superhuman – divine or demonic – warriors who are the main agents in the mythological battles around which the performances are built.

The _acting arena_ is an open rectangular ground and the audience sits on three sides of the ground. The singers and the instrument players occupy the rear of the stage. The play begins with a musical introduction and songs in praise to several different deities. The first character to appear on stage is the clown or _Kattiyakkaran_ (literally _Praise Maker_). The Kattiyakkaran is central to Kattaikkuttu performances: he provides entertainment, serves as the guardian of and opposite number for the principal characters and translates events from the epic and Puranic stories into everyday life experiences of the rural audiences. After his comic introduction, the Kattiyakkaran announces the title of the play to be performed and the entry of one of the principal characters. The stage entry of most kattai characters takes place behind a curtain held across the stage by two assistant performers. Such a _curtain entry_ requires the actor to perform a prescribed routine of songs and dance. All Kattaikkuttu actors sing themselves, supported by the chorus.


The _ Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam_ was founded in October 2002 by actor, playwright and director _P. Rajagopal_ and _Dr. Hanne M. de Bruin_ to preserve and enhance the scope of the Kattaikkuttu theatre and safeguard the artistic and economic position of its future exponents. The students are marginalized, young rural people between 5 and 20 years with a keen interest in the theatre form. Located 8 kilometers away from Kanchipuram in a small village called Punjarasantankal, the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam follows the guru-shishya system of transmission. This means that students and teachers are in constant close contact with each other in formal and non-formal settings. The Gurukulam's students are tutored in life and in all aspects of the Perungattur style of Kattaikkuttu apart from receiving a formal education.

The Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam comes under the auspices of the Kattaikkuttu Sangam. It runs its own theatre company, the Kattaikkuttu Young Professionals consisting of senior students and graduates of the Gurukulam. The girl students of the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam have their own ensemble, the Kattaikkuttu All-Girls Company, which serves as a laboratory to experiment with gender sensitive issues.


* ^ Jackie Assayag (1999). _The Resources of history: Tradition, narration and nation in South Asia_. École française d'Extrême-Orient. ISBN 978-2-85539-607-1 . * ^ _A_ _B_ Bruin, Hanne M de (1999). _Kattaikkuttu: The flexibility of a south Indian theatre tradition_. E. Forsten. pp. 85–99. ISBN 978-90-6980-103-2 . OCLC 42312297 . * ^ Bruin, Hanne M. de (2000). "Naming a theatre in Tamil Nadu". _Asian Theatre Journal_. 17 (1): 98–122. doi :10.1353/atj.2000.0001 . * ^ Bruin, Hanne M de (1999). _Kattaikkuttu: The flexibility of a south Indian theatre tradition_. E. Forsten. pp. 113–124. ISBN 978-90-6980-103-2 . OCLC 42312297 . * ^ Bruin, Hanne M. de (1998). " Karna Moksham or Karna's Death: A Play by Pukalentippulavar". du Département d'Indologie. * ^ Bruin, Hanne M de (1999). _Kattaikkuttu: The flexibility of a south Indian theatre tradition_. E. Forsten. pp. 111–1