Koodiyattam is the earliest classical dramatic art form of Kerala. Evidence show that this dance form was in vogue in all major temples from ninth century, and it became a full-fledged dramatic presentation before the fifteenth century. Koodiyattam literally means “acting together”. Koodiyattam used to be a combined dance drama conducted by the Chakkiyars (a caste among Hindus), who provided the male cast and the Nangiars (women of the Nambiyar caste), playing the female roles. Koodiyattam performance lasts for several days ranging from 6 to 20 days. Themes are based on Hindu mythology.
Koodiyattam is enacted inside the temple theatre, known as the Koothambalam, with two or more characters onstage at the same time. Vidushaka, a figure parallel to the Fool in Shakespearean plays, sometimes explains in simple Malayalam the background of the story and gives a live image of characters in the minds of the spectators. Often humorous, he enacts his role with the liberty to criticize anyone without fear.
Koodiyattam is a dramatic presentation in Sanskrit, with the exception of the vidushaka, who is the only character speaking in Malayalam. Roleplaying in Koodiyattam includes stylized form of vocal recitation coupled with a complete hand-gesture language and highly evocative facial expressions.
Koodiyattam Make-up and Costume
The make-up and costume of Koodiyattam are not so elaborate. Heroic characters are distinguished by the green colour and the small curved paper frame on their face. Costumes have a blend of brilliant colours, predominantly red, black and white. The costume of the vidushaka (jester) sets him apart from the rest. He has special make-up, small head-gears and costume that vividly display his clownish features.
Music and Orchestration of Koodiyattam Dance Form
Mizhavu is the major musical instrument used in Koodiyattam. It is a big jar made of either clay or copper, with a narrow mouth covered by leather and is played by both hands. Mizhavu is played only by the nambiyars. The Nangiars beat the cymbals and recite verses in Sanskrit.Edakka lends bhava and laya for a vivid portrayal of the soft sentiments of both male and female characters in Koodiyattam.
Koodiyattam is a temple art and probably the only surviving form of the traditional presentation of Sanskrit drama. The Koodal Manickyam temple at Irinjalakkuda and the Vadakkumnatha temple at Thrissur are the main centers where Koodiyattam is still performed annually.
Recently UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) honoured Koodiyattam by declaring the art form as one among the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, which should be protected and preserved. This was the first time that the UN body had conferred the heritage status on an art form.