Culture & Us
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Culture & Us
Theyyam,an 800 year old Dravidian art form, significant to Kolothunadu region (current north Kerala), is a living cult, a ritual form of worship intensified with traditions and customs of thousands of years. Theyyam also known as Theyyatam is literally the dance of Gods, the word Theyyam is derived from ‘Deivam’, meaning God and ‘Attam’ means dance. It is a medley of literature, vocals, paintings, dance and rituals.
The subject of the performance is the glory of divine heroes, celestial beings and spirits of ancestors too. It is based on the belief that immortal spirits enter into mortal bodies to perform a ritual dance and assures prosperity and peace to society.
Legends has it that Lord Parashurama gave the right to the people of Kolothunadu to perform Theyyam.The dance or invocation is performed in sacred groves known as ‘Kaavu’ by performers of the lower class communities like Vannan, Malayan, Mavilan, Velan, Pulayar and other related castes; accompanied by traditional musical instruments like Chenda, Elathalam, Kurumkuzal and Veekkuchenda. The artist experiences a divine nuance and is heeded as a deity during the performance, whose touch alone is considered therapeutic. Hence Theyyam is a ritual art form and not a theatre art form. It also has an important social meaning and purpose. Unlike other ancient dance forms, a Theyyan do not act as a God but possessed by God. In simple words, Theyyam becomes a God during Theyyattam. Among the accounted 450 Theyyam forms Muchilottu Bhagavathi Theyyam, Vayanatt Kulavan Theyyam, Pottan Theyyam Rakthachaamunnddi Theyyam and Kandanar Kelanare the popular Theyyam forms.The aesthetic perspective of Theyyam is asenchanting as its performance with the incredible headgear known as ‘Mudi’ and distinct facial art known as ‘Mukhathezhuthu’. Both varies in colour, size and sheer according to the grandeur and characteristics of each God.
Theyyam is not a profession or a calling that could be adopted, it is an inherited right to perform. The artist goes through an intense period of physical, mental and spiritual preparation. Stunning intricacies of primitive, ethnic and religious worship had dilated the stream of Theyyam cult, so much that even the followers of Islam have a functional aspect in it making it a deep-rooted folk religion of millions.Theyyam is performed between the Malayalam month of Thulam (corresponding to mid-October /mid-November) and of Idavam (corresponding to mid-May/mid-June). At the Parassinikadavu Sri Muthappan Temple in Kannur, Theyyam is performed on all days.
Kalaripayattu is apparently, the oldest combat-art form on earth. Its 3000 years old religious lineage attributes to Lord Shiva and Lord Parashurama, and its cultural significance attributes to Sage Agastya Muni. However, the birth of this incredible art is believed to be from what we call the nomadic evolution. Its roots are widespread in Dhanur Veda, Agnipurana, Natya Shastra and Ayurveda.
Kalaripayattu gained its importance during the 11th and 12th century. However there are claims about its existence during the 9th century. Kalaripayattu flourished from the 13th century to the 18th century, when the provincial rulers patronized this for self-defense in accord to the socio-political scene of Medieval Kerala. By the 19th century, the practice of Kalari plummeted and eventually was banned under the British Colonial rule to prevent rebellion and anti-colonial doctrines.
Kalaripayattu is coined from two words ‘Kalari’, meaning battleground and ‘Payattu’, meaning combat; in short it is the art of combat on battlefield.
This deadly martial art includes gravity-defying aerial kicks, lunges and strikes; powerful torso-bends, weaponry, attack on pressure points known as ‘Marmams’, preset forms and healing methods. Kalaripayattu is not a sport, it’s a lethal method of combat.Lessons on Kalaripayattu is imparted by the teacher, who is known as ‘Ashan’ or ‘Gurukul’. Apart from combat and physical training, lessons on art, languages and science are also included. Learning of rituals, anatomy and treatments are major topics of the study.
Teaching methodology of Kalaripayattu is through verbal commands known as ‘Vaythari’. Lessons are imparted at the tender age of seven.
This enormous structure of training is imparted in four different steps. First is the body conditioning exercises to maximize the use of all the joints and muscles known as ‘Maipayattu’. In the second step, wooden weapons are used and is known as ‘Koltharipayattu’. Followed by the third step known as ‘Ankatharipayattu’, which includes the use of weapons like spear, dagger, sword and shield and an incredible lethal flexible sword called ‘Urumi’.The fourth and the last step is a barehanded defense and attack tactics known as ‘Verumkai’, which is aimed only on the vital energy cross points of the body called ‘Marmams’. It can result in instant death, delayed death even immobility of the body.
From this last step comes the incredible method of treatment called ‘Marmachikitsa’ under Siddha Vaidyam and ‘Uzhuchil’ treatment under Ayurveda.
The 2000 year old temple art, Koodiyattam is the only ritualistic Sanskrit theatre of Kerala. It is one of India’s oldest living rendition of Sanskrit drama and is vested by UNESCO as ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’.
This temple art isperformed exclusively in temple theatres known as ‘Koothambalam’. It is based on the texts and verses of Sanskrit plays written by Saktibhadra, Nilakantha, Bodhayana, Harsa, andBhasa.Koodiyattam as seen today is a reformed version choreographed by King Kulasekhara Varman with the assistance of his friend Tholan ten centuries back.
The medium of expression used in the play is a highly developed mime language stylized and codified throughneta abhinaya (eye expression) and hasta abhinaya (the language of gestures).
The songs or ‘slokas’ in Koodiyattom performance are rendered in Sanskrit, accompanied with traditional musical instruments known as ‘mizhavu’ (a percussion instrument, prominent among the rest), ‘kuzhithalam’ (a type of cymbal), ‘idakka’ (a hourglass shaped drum), ‘kurumkuzhal’ (a double reed wind instrument) and ‘sankhu’, (conch).Traditionally the male roles are played by performers of the Chakyar community and the female roles are played by the Nangiars of the Nambiyar community. The actors undergo ten to fifteen years of rigorous training with much emphasis onbreath control and subtle muscle shifts of the face and body.Flamboyant costumes with ample use of colours and intense makeup heightens the visual effect.This dramatized worship transpire between 9 pm and 3 am, that is after the close of the evening rituals and before the start of the morning rituals in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple where the play is scheduled. A single act would last up to 41 days due to the elaborate detailing of each situation or episode. The intricate theatre grammar of Koodiyattam is no longer a secret document handed down, within the actor-families of the Chakiyar and Nambiyar community, since a thousand years. It has broken the caste barrier to a larger group of contemporary artists who has also led to scripting of new manuals and texts outside the traditional Sanskrit plays. Koodiyattam is now being experimented on Shakespeare plays too, though purists are completely antagonistic towards the idea.
In 1927, on a donated land funded with public donations and lottery, one among Kerala’s poets of modern Malayalam, Vallathol Narayana Menon and his friend, a devoted cultural activist together formed a society to perpetuate Kerala’s traditional art forms, which was facing the threat of extinction under the rigid colonial rule. They named it ‘Kerala Kalamandalam’.
In 2006 ‘Kerala Kalamandalam’, was awarded the status of ’Deemed University for Art and Culture’ by the Government of India. It is the only university in Kerala state to be accorded with category ‘A’ status by University Grants Commission (India) in 2010.
Kerala Kalamandalam is located on the quaint town of Cheruthuruthy in Thrissur, on the picturesque banks of Bharathapuzha. Since its inception, the society has played a prominent role in reviving three major traditional art forms of Kerala namely, Kathakali, Koodiyattam and Mohiniyattam.
Kalamandalam functions in the ancient residential school format known as ‘GurukulSampradaya’. It was formed to provide training on various traditional art and culture disciplines, which includes Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Koodiyattam, Thullal, Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, and Nangiar Koothu, Chamayam, Carnatic music, Panchavadyamand percussion instruments like chenda, madhalam and mizhavu.
Kalamandalam is a treasure trove of Kerala’s rich tradition. Troupes at Kalamandalam travel across the globe to showcase Kerala’s incredible heritage. Faculties at Kalamandalam are world renowned artistes in their respective disciplines. For any artistwho performs traditional art forms, it is a matter of enormous pride to prefix the title ‘Kalamandalam’ along with their first name.
The Kalamandalam campus also houses a traditional art theatre called ‘Kothambalam’, an art gallery and a museum dedicated to its founder Vallathol, which is now become a cultural pilgrimage.
Kathakali has evolved over centuries from the 2nd to the 17thcentury as a sacred theatre art. Its evolution into the current format began in the 17th century. Its reputation has travelled well through time and beyond borders.
Kathakali is a vibrant drama that embraces devotion, dance, music, costumes and makeup in order to translate us through the depths of Hindu epics like the ‘Ramayana’ and the ‘Mahabarata’, and ancient scriptures called ‘Puranas’ through its engaging aesthetic.
The framework is archaic and orthodox and the subject, is the eternal struggle between good and evil. However what makes Kathakali so compelling is itsmajestic costumes and make-up, structured drumming, delicate singing and puissant acting.
It takes years of hard work and commitment to master the craft. The training is imparted through Kalaripayattu, the oldest combat-art form on earth. Which creates the perfect physical and mental equilibrium required of an actor to portray epic characters of Hindu Gods. The craft is translated to the audience through Mudras. Mudras are sign languages, with just 24 basic Mudras and their combinations, over 700 words with perfect sentence structure and grammar can be constructed.In Kathakali, to emote with eyes and facial muscles are the most crucial and difficult skill to master, it is known as Satvika Abhinayam. It takes a lifetime to master all nine emotions called ‘Navarasas’.
Costumes and make-up is the most spectacular element of Kathakali. The three dimensional facial make-up made with thin rice paste and paper known as ‘Chutti’, is in the Guinness Book of Records as the most three dimensional make up in the world.
Use of colour in make-up has to do more than plain aesthetic. They have a role to play. Each colour depicts each character from God to evil. For instance the colour green portrays the protagonist known as ‘Pacha’. The colour green with some red portrays the antagonist known as ‘Kathi’.
The singers and drummers are responsible for providing rhythm, emotion and drama to the play. The work of the costumer starts from the makeup to the skirt, ornaments and the majestic head gear.
Handloom & Handicrafts of Kerala
The arts and crafts scene of Kerala is a proof that its traditional doctrines and affluent heritage are not constrained within in its art forms. From wood carving to textile and metal works. The handloom and handicraft industry of a state with just over 38,863 km² is vast to contemplate. The rich saga of Kerala’s textile affluence is manifested in the ‘kasavu’. The making of the golden border seen on saris and skirts in shades of white is a full-blown handloom industry of the state. Balaramapuram near to the capital city of Trivandrum is the hub of these handloom saris.Weavers take five to seven days to weave a normal kasavu and few weeks to create an exquisite one.The brass and bell metal art scene is quiet large in certain towns of Kerala namely Mannar and Aranmulla. The smiths of Mannar has an envious list of incredibleness which includes the world’s biggest church lamp at Kuravilangad church, the world’s biggest temple lamp at Chettikulangara Devi temple, the world’s biggest temple bell at Shimla temple, the world’s biggest church bell at Cathedral Church, New Delhi, etc. The best kept secret of the quaint town of Aranmulla is its metal mirror famed as ‘Aranmulla kannadi’. The making and composition of this medieval wonder is shrouded in mystery. It is believed to be an auspicious object which brings fortune. Coir and Cane products of Kerala are best sellers in international market for eco-friendly products. This cottage industry, mainly based in Allepey, Kollam and irijalakuda, produce a list of coir and cane products which includes baskets, mattresses, furnishings, furniture, etc. Coconut shell handicrafts are perfect souvenirs forpeople visiting Kerala. They are used to craft products like vases, cutlery and toys. Screw pine products and grass mats known as ‘Pulpaya’ are ancient crafts of Kerala. Treated trunk of Banana plant gives a refined natural fiber which is used to craft table mats, bags, floor mats, etc. Banana fiber handicrafts is slowly winning popularity.
The epithet that Kerala is God’s own country was not bestowed for its tranquil beauty alone. The miraculous therapeutic techniques offered in Kerala which has healed and rejuvenated the world makes it truly God’s own country. Ayurveda and Siddha are two major traditional healing doctrines followed in Kerala.
‘Ayurveda’ is not just science but ‘A Way of Life’. Healing is done by harmonizing the body, mind and soul. Ayurveda is perhaps the only science that could diagnose the elements of the body and bring in the balance needed for a healthy life. Its healing powers extend over several illness from skin to orthopedics, neurology and so on.
‘Siddha Vaidyam’ as it is popularly known is the most primitive healing system which does not consider prevention and treatment separately. Siddhars (saints) were of the belief that healthy soul could only be developed in healthy body. Hence they developed medicines that strengthened their bodies thereby their souls. The principal doctrines of treating diseases was done through balancing, erecting and eliminating the pathogens. Conferring to Sidhhars, proper diet and lifestyle play a vital role in curing diseases.
‘Ottamooli’ or single medicine system folk-cure system of traditional medicines in Kerala. In this system, the medicine willhave only one or two ingredients. And the best part is that it has no side effects.
People and Attire – South India
South Indians constitutes around one fifth of the total population of India. The average literacy rate of south Indians is 80% with the state of Kerala having 93.91%, the highest in the country. Agriculture, Tourism, Fisheries and IT are the major employers of the region.80% of the population follows Hinduism, followers of Islam and Christianity sums up the rest.
South Indians have a lot more in common when it comes to cuisine. Rice is their staple diet. Dishes like sambar, rasam and pickles are part of their daily diet. The coastal areas are known for their exquisite seafood. Though Dosa, Vada, Sadhya, Biryani and Pongal rules the South Indian Culinary Palate.
The attire of the people of South India cannot be explained sans mentioning its enormous production and trade of handloom materials. Both men and women wear traditional handloom attires known as ‘Sari’ and ‘Mundu’. Sari worn by women is a 6 yard cloth draped methodically around the waist and over the shoulders. The sheer brilliance of draping oneself in sari is a matter of pride and joy for them. For women of South India no auspicious occasion is complete without being dressed in the traditional attire, sari. Same applies to Men too. ‘Mundu’ is again a stretch of cloth much shorter than sari and is draped elegantly around the waist. Both Sari and Mundu has evolved through centuries in draping style and material. However it continues to rule the shopping dreams of every South Indian even if his wardrobe is brimming with Gucci and Armani.
South India has awed the ancient world largely throughout its ancient history and medieval period. The Edakkal caves of Wayanad in the South Indian state of Kerala have petroglyphs that had been inhabited as early as 6000 BCE. Ancient Tamil literature records trade routes from Muzris to the Mediterranean Ports from 3rd century BC to 4th century AD. The traders included, Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Syrians, Jews and Chinese. Major dynasties like Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas, Pallavas, Kadambas, Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Vijayanagara have ruled and left their impact ranging from architecture to cuisine till date. Vijayanagara Empire was one of the richest and largest cities in the world; it used to be the biggest trading Centre of the ancient world. They all speak one of the four Dravidian languages like Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu.
Europeans entered India through Kerala as traders by the 15th century and by 18th century they ruled the country. During the British rule South India was divided into the Madras Presidency, Hyderabad state, Mysore, Travancore, Kochi and few princely states. Post-Independence in 1947, these regions were reorganized to form present day states of Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.