Awakening a Living World on a Kūṭiyāṭṭam Stage
Explores the cultural dynamics of this ancient form of Sanskrit theater.
Kūṭiyāṭṭam, an ancient form of Sanskrit theater from Kerala, was traditionally performed only in temples by members of two temple assistant castes. Today, however, it has spread to other castes and to venues outside temples. It is a fantastically complex, sophisticated, layered performance, toiling at amassing and perfecting ways of materializing a world where gods, demons, and mythical heroes live, bringing the audience into these other realities. Taking an anthropological approach, Awakening a Living World on a Kūṭiyāṭṭam Stage explores how Kūṭiyāṭṭam uses cultural dynamics, gleaned from temple ritual and theater, to remove the distinctions between mundane reality and the mediaeval plays being performed on stage. The unique features of Kūṭiyāṭṭam—makeup masks, enthralling drumming, delivering words in mudrā gestures, a shimmering lamp, male and female actors—all intertwine to animate stories from the great Indian eposes. Analyzing the cultural dynamics at work in Kūṭiyāṭṭam foregrounds a symbolic anthropology in which representation and symbols are shunned, while endless repetitions fill the stage with reverberating somatic intensities of profound depth. Thus, a new kind of living reality emerges that includes the protagonists of the play—gods, demons, humans, animals, and objects—together with the artist, the audience, and beyond.
Einat Bar-On Cohen is an independent researcher. She lives in Jerusalem.
"This book offers a fresh perspective on Kūṭiyāṭṭam, seeking answers to questions of freedom and restraint, reality and role-playing, play and ritual in this theatrical form. Engaging with a wide range of actors, spectators, and members of family lineages, Einat Bar-On Cohen offers a thorough investigation and analysis of different scenes and episodes in Kūṭiyāṭṭam, bringing out their expressive power and dramatic significance." — Sudha Gopalakrishnan, author of Kutiyattam: The Heritage Theatre of India