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Tuesday 25 July 2017
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THE ART OF FOLK DRAMA (KOOTHU) : UNDISCUSSED AMONG THE DIASPORA.

THE ART OF FOLK DRAMA (KOOTHU) : UNDISCUSSED AMONG THE DIASPORA.

Translated by : V.F.Joseph

We all know that, it is an un-contradictable fact, that Art and its Aesthetics is a form of entertainment, long cherished by the human race. It is a matter for routine understanding that, these Art Forms and every matter related to them, exert influence into the civilization bases and the cultural strata of every individual race and become the identifying element of that particular race. Because these Arts remain with a routine state of being able to emerge with these identities, they started to sprout on the earth with several forms and numerous unique features. The world powers that have conquered long land areas and small nations which are seem to have shrunk in the world map, both exist having their own traditions, heredities and histories. The Arts emerging from these unique features, also largely consist of unique structures of their own.

Although, we, the Eelam Tamils are living for a long time as the ancient inhabitants in the small island state of Sri Lanka, and have traditional historical extensions, we know that, we have to struggle with several things in compromising with the majority race and establish the selves and identities that are ours. Migration is a direct result of our efforts to redeem us from the disasters, caused when we endeavoured to recover our rights from several things like, Political pressures, economic oppressions, educational inequalities, lack of professional opportunities, inadequate industries, non recognition to Mother tongue, absence of race freedom, and religious discriminations.
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The severity of the merciless war had driven Eelam Tamils into migration from as far as three decades back, while several others had enweaved their life-spaces with this western world out of their motherland for several reasons such as higher education an employment. These life-spaces are not meant for only survival. But on the other hand, are being continued to be re-identified with their Civilization, Culture, Arts, Etiquettes, Religious observances and festivals. No one can deny that among the several things re-identified by our brethren, Arts holds a unique place. The overall mind set of the majority of the Tamil Diaspora was to present continuously their Art forms in countries of their adoption and being eager to nurture their next generation in these Art forms. The wide spread increase in Tamil Educational Institutions, and offering Arts related training classes without being confined to teaching Tamil, could be seen as an expression of this mind set.

The interest shown by the Diaspora on Arts remains an inadequacy of being just satisfied with fine arts related learning and the expensive maiden performances of them. Most of us are living and ending our lives with an attitude of either not thinking beyond this or without adequate time or necessity for understanding the indigenous or national art forms. We think that, it is not pertinent for us to pioneer a search as to what percentage of these Fine Arts forms, which we worship as Tamil art forms of our own Eelam or Art performances have links with our roots and origin. It should be said here that although half of these Art forms had gained the status of Eelam Tamil Art forms and inducted into our lives, as per the historical evidences of the distant past, available to us, these art forms are residual remains of what had been brought into us from outside or forced into us. This position of ours may provoke many people connected to this field. But there are many things which we had to take beyond these predisposed provocations and evaluate them.
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Among the Performing Art Forms that are connected to body dynamics and facial expressions such as “ Aadal “ (dancing ) and “Adavu” ( rhythmical physical movement), the art of “Bharatham” has been developed into high popularity in the Diaspora environment. In one way, this is pleasurable. What gives an uneasy feeling is that, this dance art, imported from outside, has brought a performing art form which belongs exclusively to the Tamils of Eelam, to a point of being excluded or forgotten or not knowing that such a thing existed. This serial article is not in any way against the Art of Bhratham. This is an effort to re-establish the relationship we had with a Eelam Tamil National Art Form, between it and the Diaspora.
It will be largely an alien information to a considerable number of people in the Diaspora that there is an Art form called, “Koothu” ( Folk Drama) or “ Naddu Koothu” (Indigenous Folk Drama) Form, which has been traditionally played from ancient times, by Eelam Tamils. It was in a stage of becoming obsolete, but has recently undergone a major revival educationally and is now being performed in an innovative and refined form in Eelam and is currently, being learned as a study course. Generally, in the attitudes of the Diaspora, there is a nature that had to be viewed with much pain of heart. We have to accept that, most of us carry a notion that our home land and its Arts and Cultural futures are remaining unchanged from what they were, at the times of migration of each individual. Several of us tend to think from this back ground and that even today, the Performing Art Forms like Drama and Koothu are being played by humans, who are Illiterate, ignorant, senseless and unsuitable for any other trades. Although we have understood that the Performing Arts are being greatly respected and are being staged in a highly professional way and at higher educational levels, there seems to be some difficulties in accepting our own indigenous art forms as respectable. The effect of this difficulty is the increase in the life span of our love for Bharatham, Kathakali, Kutchchupudy and Kathak which are imported from India and assimilated to us. Another effect is that, the Art of Koothu being indicated as an Art, which does not open the door for income. As far as Koothu is concerned, the income routes through, high charges for classes, expensive maiden performances and limitless gift to the teacher (“Guru Thadchanai”) being blocked, could be considered as the reasons for this. On the other hand, it could be stated that, there are no clearly defined curriculum unit, nor an organized structure for dancing and singing properly drafted to date, for Koothu to be accepted as a study course.

It is an important matter that, We, who draw great strength with much aspiration regarding the Tamil Nationalism, especially the Diaspora, should educated in our own National Art Form and bring it to a professional, respected and higher educational position. Bringing the Art of Koothu to this position entails, the knowledge of and subjecting them to research, of its origin, growth, evolution, field, carriage, distribution, nature, strengths, weaknesses, barriers, challenges, indigenous characteristics, and national importance. This knowledge and research is necessary for us, especially, the younger generation living in countries of migration. Something or other unfold as Tamil Arts in front of these youngsters, who venture out in search of their roots, but our Art Forms with unique aspects, such as “Koothu”, “Kummy”( Dancing with rhythmical clapping),” Adavu” and “ Dance” are obfuscated without being presented for their perusal. It is my objective to make our traditional Art of Koothu, a subject of discussion in our Diaspora bases, bringing it to a familiar position, dusting out of obfuscation and bringing it to the attention of our youngsters, to be preserved by them, through this article.
This Art form of Koothu, which originated, like all other art forms, from religious rituals, took in the changes in stage forms, transferred through ears and eyes, and now entering the gates of study courses, has a long and grand history. We will wade through a wide spectrum consisting of , What information are available from that historical period? Which is the origin of the Art of Koothu? What are challenges which confronted it? What are its ascents and declines? What are its constituents? What are its classifications? What are its contents? What are the dimensions of the stages? What are the types of songs and melodies used? What is the nature of Dances and Adavus used? What are the types of make-ups and costumes? , in this series of articles.
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The Art of Koothu originated from Religious rituals. It had been already proved, by several researches, that, basically, the arts forms of any nation had originated from the religious beliefs and religion related rituals of the respective race groups. We all know that the man has a natural ability to ape things. This ability varies from the ability to copy by words, voices, facial expressions to body language. We could confidently say that our human ancestors who were at this natural state had endeavoured to demonstrate something. The ancient man, whose survival depended on hunting, tried to re-enact his hunting occupation to others. Some say that, this effort had been expressed later as, religious rites and with the passage of time transformed into Dance and Drama. They have repeated these performances pretending themselves as the hunters and some others pretending themselves as the hunted animals.
They believed that by rehearsing the hunting operations, and gesticulating to kill people disguised as animals, before going for hunting, they will be able to kill more animals. They started to believe that this will safeguard their hunting and that it will pave the way for the hunting to be successful. Researchers in the field of drama, confirm that, the repetition of this doing ‘like it’ on the basis of their belief had evolved into rites, which came to be clinging on those ancient people. These continuing activities like ‘doing it like that’, ‘pretending’, ‘placing faith on’ and ‘repeating’ gradually began to induct new aspects like, wearing costumes, dancing, singing , and going in procession. They utilized their body movements and noises for their performance. It is justifiable to consider that, their body movements might have brought some sort of dancing tradition into them. Later however, they used these rituals not only for hunting, but also for agriculture. When the crops were growing, they believed that performing dances could increase their yields and applied dance performance as ‘mantras’. In this ancient society, their labour, religion, rituals and drama were not separated from each other. You may say that, they were inseparably entwined with each other.

Ancient man did not terminate his duplicating with only his human activities. Instead he commenced copying Devine activities, on which he had placed faith. He essentially needed nature, benefits it granted to him and ways and means of safeguarding himself from the natural elements. He strongly believed that, the activities of the nature, such as, the harvesting of food from the soil, rainfall, heat and light from the sun, blowing of the wind, and swaying of the trees are made possible by powers beyond his abilities. He began to metaphor them into Gods. The extension of this metaphor kindled in him beliefs related powerful spirits. They strongly believed the existence of these spirits in the Majestic mountain peaks, tumultuous rivers, upper strata of the atmosphere, violently blowing winds and that they can control the nature by bringing these spirits into their influence. Basing on these beliefs, they presumed that, they could bring the spirits under their influence, by danced themselves to exhaustion, pretending to be these spirits. The researchers had concluded that these continuous activities were transformed into rituals.
The person who give the leadership for this kind of activities of a particular human clan was considered as their Teacher and when viewed through religious conjuncture, as their High-Priest and the Master of Ceremonies. Their imaginations about the spirits, which they considered to be with great power, took newer and newer forms according to their knowledge and experience. These new forms created new stories through the rituals. The stories so created, later became fictions and myths and with the passage of time, came into existence as legends. Dramatic nature largely stood out in these rituals. Because of this, the drama in the later periods was able to detach itself from these rituals with dramatic nature. One cannot say that all rituals evolved into drama. However, dramatic natures prevailed in all of them.
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Historically, evidences of very ancient dramas or rituals had been largely found in Greek Civilization. Researches in the theatrical sector had confirmed that these ancient dramas of Greece, had originated in “ Dith Ram”, a ritual natured song. These researches also say that, “ Thespese” the first actor, is the origin of this type of ‘doing like it’ or demonstrating. The “Theonisus Festival” , a gargantuan festival, celebrated in Greece, is a festival with ritualistic nature. This rituals had originated from the legend that, If the body of a dead person is shared and eaten by people alive, the dead person will be living through them. A continuation of this legend could be seen in Catholicism. On the night previous to his death,
“Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “take , eat, this is my body ” he took a cup …..gave it to them, saying, “ Drink of it …….for this is my blood” – Mathew 26:26,27.”
We can see even today that, on the basis of this legend, the Catholics are remembering this in their Holy Mass. Hence, the researches had brought us to the conclusion that, at the beginning, the Performing Arts of any race had their roots in the religious rites of that race.

When we look at the Tamil Arts and their origins from a research view, we could see that they too are largely related to such legends and religious rituals. When we view Tamil Literatures we see that, they also prove that, this is so. The data derived from the Sangam Period ( approximately up to third century AD) had provided evidence of the occurrence of dances of the ‘Veriyaddu’, ‘Thai Neeradal’, and ‘Thunankai Koothu’ varieties. Later, in the ‘Chilappatikaram’ period, evidences are available about ‘ Veduwa Vari’, ‘Kaanal Vari’, and ‘Kunnarak Kuravai’, which go to confirm the origination of, performances such as mentioned above, from rituals. Even today, we could witness the performing of ‘Karuvalach chadangu’ in Tamil Nadu villages in accordance with certain Performance characteristics.

Our own Eelam Koothu tradition is no exception among the universal universality. It is evident that, some of the aspects of the Koothu tradition found among us have not come out of the influence of religion related rituals, completely. We could add, especially, ‘Kaman Koothu’ and ‘Aruchunan Thabasu’, performed among the people of the up-country people and the ‘Kaththavarayan Koothu’ , played in Jaffna as evidences. We can also see that, the performance of ‘Vasasnthan Koothu’ praying for rain and the legend that when ‘Vasanthan koothu’ is performed , the drought will end and rains will be received, has extended into current days. Hence we could understand that, our ‘Koothu’s had been performed with nature and the gods as the subjects and with legends and religious rituals.

We will discuss the answers to the questions, How were these Koothus performed? What are the characteristics of the performing arenas? What were their themes about? What type are the costumes and make-up? Who played the characters ? What type are the instruments used and the Music played? At what times they were performed? What were their social values? What were costume jewelleries worn in them?, in the next installment.


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