Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Arts and Architecture

Dance Drama

Chavittunatakam is a Christian dramatic form which was introduced during the time of the Portuguese in Kerala in the16th century A.D. 'Chavittu' means the rhythmic steps which accompanies the recitation of lines in the drama.

In the beginning this theatre was practiced by Latin Christians. This concept of the western opera type of theatre was inspired from the miracle plays of the west. The themes presented were also western. The texts were written in old Tamil. The acting techniques, stage structure and treatment of the plot were all western. The influence of Kathakali can be seen in the use of curtains and in certain elements of the costumes. The influence of Kalaripayattu is evident from the vivacious fighting scenes.

The characters used to sing their dialogues. The adventurous themes selected for Chavittunatakam, like 'Charlemangne', 'St. George' etc gave immense opportunity to use the local martial art form, Kalaripayattu both for the fighting scenes and the total kinetic design. The  participants of the play used to be very militant in their real life as they were sometimes used for fighting trespassers on private land. Kalaripayattu has immensely influenced the form. The forceful stamping of the foot by the actors is most dramatic and it effectively communicates the basic heroic mood in most of the themes. Being an opera, gestures are not used in Chavittunatakam to communicate ideas. The steps, the stamping and the locomotion of the body sharply coincide with the vocal singing and the accompanying rhythm on the instrument chenda creating a very vibrant dramatic effect. Male actors does the roles of women. 

The stage for the performance used to be a low platform of the strongest wood, about twenty yards long, eight yards broad and half a yard high. The performance was deemed a failure if, by the time the play ended, the platform had not been completely wrecked by the tremendous pounding of the actors feet. 

The training in the art was given by the chief Guru known as 'Annavi' or 'Asan'. He used to give basic martial training to the actors before introducing them to the text. The texts were preserved either in palm leaf or paper and they were known as 'Chuvati'. The Annavi was well versed in Tamil which was the language in which the texts were written. The number of performers and troupes in this discipline has come down as the art was not getting adequate encouragement from the public. But recently there has been a revival of traditional art forms all over, including this dance drama.