Koodiyattam, also known as Kutiyattam ( Kūṭiyāṭṭaṁ, Sanskrit: कूडियाट्टम्, Kūḍiyāṭṭam) the oldest living theater tradition in the world, with over 2000 years of history is a traditional art form of Kerala that renders of well-known Sanskrit plays. With the strong foundation over the culture, literature and other traditional art forms, it blends ritual, sacred traditional precepts, and rehearsed elements with creative improvisation. Complicated gesture language, chanting, and exaggerated expressions of the face and eyes are complemented by elaborate headdresses, makeup and musical instruments including Mizhavu, Kuzhitalam, Etakka, Kurumkuzhal, and Sankhu.
Koodiyattam blends acting perfectly with music made of in a way of its kind which gifts the spectators with a perfect artistic treat. Koodiyattam was officially recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity which explains the greatness of this historic art form.
Koodiyattam closely resemble those used in famous ritual dance forms like Theyyam and Tirayattam. By and large, Koodiyattam adheres to the acting technique elaborately described in Bharata’s Natyasastra, the basic book of Indian dramaturgy. However, a closer look will reveal significant deviations and divergences in all techniques involving physical movements, hand gestures, ocular acting, costumes, choreography etc.
It is possible that Koodiyattam preserved a South Indian theatre, a full-fledged form that was in existence even before Natyasastra. As early as in Chilappatikaram, one of the five great ancient Tamil epics, there is mention of the “Chakaiyan” (Chakyar). Prince IlangoAdigal had composed this epic in between 4th and 8th century AD. The art of acting had been developed on scientific lines centuries before this. This is evident from the methodical classification of human emotions found in another ancient work, Tolkappiyam, an encyclopedia.
The name “Koodiyattam“ means “performing together”. The performance is done by many actors together, each actor playing a role and the whole performance is in consonance with the beats of the mizhavu drummers. The main main actors, namely “Chakyar” the (male actors) and “Nagyaars” (female actors) performs the play with the support of instruments like Mizhavu, Kuzhitalam, Etakka, Kurumkuzhal, and Sankhu. The performance of Koodiyattam may be as short as twelve hours and also it can be elaborated to as long as 150 hours that spreads across several nights.