Kerala Dance Forms
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Chakyar Koothu

Chakyar Koothu: Kerala Dance

Chakyar Koothu is a performing art form from Kerala, south India. It is a kind of mono act and a traditional equivalent of a stand-up comedy act. However, unlike the stand-up comedy, the performer has a wider leeway in that he can heckle the audience. This highly refined art form of narrating stories from Hindu epics (such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) and other stories from the Puranas combined with prevailing socio-political events, are ideally performed in temples in connection with festivals by members of the Chakyar community along with Ambalavasi Nambiars. The Chakyar narrates the story based on Sanskrit champu prabandha - a mixture of prose (gadya) and poetry (shloka). The medium used is refined Malayalam along with the original Sanskrit text.
"Koothu" means dance - which is a misnomer, since there is minimal choreography involved in this art form; facial expressions are important. It was performed in the Koothambalam - a place specially designed to perform Kutiyattam and Chakyar Koothu, inside a Hindu temple and the performer begins with a prayer to the deity of the temple. He then goes on to narrate a verse in Sanskrit before explaining it in the vernacular Malayalam. The narration that follows touches upon various current events and societal factors with great wit and humour.
Koothu was traditionally performed by the Chakyar community. Only two instruments accompany the performance - a mizhavu and a pair of ilathalam. This is different from the Nangiar Koothu, which is performed by women called Nangyarammas who belong to Nambiar caste, and is a more evolved theatre art.
Chakyar Koothu was originally performed only in Koothambalams of Hindu temples. It was Padma Shri Mani Madhava Chakyar, a visionary and virtuoso of this art took Koothu and Kudiyattam outside the temples to the common people, who first performed Chakyar Koothu for All India Radio and Doordarshan. The late Ammannur Madhava Chakyar was another father figure in the art in the 20th century.
The story goes that Mani Madhava Chakyar's guru, Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran wrote a Sanskrit champu prabandha called Prahladacharita and requested some senior artists to study and perform it, but they found it impossible. It was then that the young Mani Madhava Chakyar's turn to try. He agreed and studied a part of the prabandha within one night and performed it next day at Tripunithura, the then capital of the princely Kochi state. The incident proved his mastery over both Sanskrit and the classical art forms. After some months, he performed entire Prahladacharita at the same stage.

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