The ancient Sanskrit theatrical art form of the state, Kutiyattam is Kerala’s distinctive stage interpretation of the very early Sanskrit drama as dance drama. Kutiyattam (Koodiyattam), which is around 2000 years old, has been accepted as one of the 'Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' by the UNESCO. It is usually performed only in temple theatres known as Koothambalam by members of the Chakyar and Nambyar castes till the first half of the 20th century. Only through rigorous training lasting many years one can aspire to master the craft of Kutiyattam.
The word Kutiyattam literally means "acting together". There are four methods or types of acting has been mentioned in Sage Bharata’s Natya Shastra – aangikam (expression using different parts of the body), vaachikam (expression through speech), sathvikam (expression of physical reactions to emotions) and aahaaryam (expression through costume, ornaments and props) are all woven into Koodiyattam performances. A typical Koodiyattam performance involves elaborate and lengthy acting sequences using hand gestures and distinctive modes of acting like Ilakiyaattom, Pakarnnaatttom and Irunnaattom.
As mentioned before, Kutiyattam performances are based on Sanskrit plays. However, only a part of the play is enacted. Thus the performance is named not after the play but usually in terms of an event that is in focus. As such, like Vichinnabhishekam, Mayaseethankom and Shoorppanakhaankom. Ankom literally means chapter.
Prathimaabhishekam written by Bhasan, Swapnavaasavadatham, Prathijnjayougandharaayanam, Oorubhangam, Madhyama Vyaayogam, Doothavakyam, Naagaanandam by Sriharshan, Aashcharya Choodamani by Shakthibhadran, Subhadra Dhananjayam by Kulasekharavarman, Thapathee Samvaranam, Kalyanasaugandhikam by Neelakantan, Mathavilasom by Mahendra Varman and Bhadavaddujakam by Bodhayanan.
Today, the presentation of a single ‘ankam’ from one of these plays takes upto eight days where as in the earlier days it took upto 41 days to complete a single chapter.
The Mizhavu is the main instrument used as accompaniment in a Kutiyattam performance. Others include Idakka, Shankhu, Kurumkuzhal and Kuzhithaalam.
The temples with koothamablams (temple theatres) for Kutiyattam performance are Thirumandhamkunnu,, Thiruvaarppu, Thiruvaalathur (Kodumba), Guruvayoor, Arppokkara, Kidangoor, Peruvanam, Thiruvegappuram, Moozhikkulam, Thirunakkara, Harippadu, Chengannur, Iringalakkuda and Vadakkumnatha, Thrissur.