Awakening a Living World on a Kūṭiyāṭṭam Stage

By Einat Bar-On Cohen

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, Hindu Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Drama, Performing Arts
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Hardcover : 9781438496924, 239 pages, March 2024
Paperback : 9781438496917, 239 pages, September 2024
Expected to ship: 2024-09-02

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. Kūṭiyāṭṭam

2. The World of Hanūman: Creating a Fluid Cosmos on a Kūṭiyāṭṭam Stage

3. Storytelling in Kūṭiyāṭṭam: How an Inclusive World Is Created

4. White, Black, and Red Śūrpaṇakhā, Golden Sītā: Cosmic Events of Female Intensities in Kūṭiyāṭṭam

5. Cūṭala-k-kūttu: Performing at the Cremation Grounds

6. The Vidūṣaka—and the Connectivity of Human Frailties

7. The Gods Are Coaxed into Our Lives

Works Cited

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