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Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre from Kerala, and 18 other forms of cultural expression have been declared by UNESCO as ‘Masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity’, an initiative that draws attention to remarkable cultural spaces. SUDHA GOPALAKRISHNAN examines the rationale behind the move.

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The recognition of Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre form of Kerala, as a remarkable example of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity, has brought this once less-known art under the spotlight of global attention, and made the world citizen responsible for the protection and promotion of this art. It is as much a vindication of the perseverance and dedication of the actors of Kutiyattam who struggled to keep the art alive down the centuries in spite of heavy odds, as the untiring efforts of a few scholars and theatre aficionados who strove to keep this tradition alive through constant support and encouragement. Not only Kutiyattam, but 18 other artistic and cultural expression across the world, considered “endangered”, have been selected from all over the world by UNESCO for proclamation as a world heritage.

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The oral and intangible aspect of creativity is a broad area of human activity and expression, which does not lend itself to easy definitions and categorisation. Part of the collective memory of the people, it finds expression in traditional communities which have their own folklore, world view and systems of indigenous knowledge, developed through a close observation of nature and transmitted through an oral tradition. The vast, complex mosaic of diverse traditional cultures across the world are today facing the threat of subjugation to the overpowering effects of globalisation, standardisation of their richness of heritage to a set of universal norms provided by the mass media, and a gradual dissipation of their distinct identities. In this context, UNESCO’s intervention of recognising remarkable forms of cultural expression as “masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity” is a positive step in protecting cultural diversity and fostering creativity in popular and traditional forms of expression. According to UNESCO’s Implementation Guide which sets forth its statement of intent, this recognition is directed towards “the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community, expressed by a group of individuals and recognised as reflecting the expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity”.

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Traditionally performed inside temple theatres called Koothambalams, Kutiyattam was sustained in the olden days by the patronage of kings and art aficionados belonging to the upper castes of Kerala.

Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre from Kerala, and 18 other forms of cultural expression have been declared by UNESCO as ‘Masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity’, an initiative that draws attention to remarkable cultural spaces. SUDHA GOPALAKRISHNAN examines the rationale behind the move.

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THE recognition of Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre form of Kerala, as a remarkable example of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity, has brought this once less-known art under the spotlight of global attention, and made the world citizen responsible for the protection and promotion of this art. It is as much a vindication of the perseverance and dedication of the actors of Kutiyattam who struggled to keep the art alive down the centuries in spite of heavy odds, as the untiring efforts of a few scholars and theatre aficionados who strove to keep this tradition alive through constant support and encouragement. Not only Kutiyattam, but 18 other artistic and cultural expression across the world, considered “endangered”, have been selected from all over the world by UNESCO for proclamation as a world heritage.

The oral and intangible aspect of creativity is a broad area of human activity and expression, which does not lend itself to easy definitions and categorisation. Part of the collective memory of the people, it finds expression in traditional communities which have their own folklore, world view and systems of indigenous knowledge, developed through a close observation of nature and transmitted through an oral tradition. The vast, complex mosaic of diverse traditional cultures across the world are today facing the threat of subjugation to the overpowering effects of globalisation, standardisation of their richness of heritage to a set of universal norms provided by the mass media, and a gradual dissipation of their distinct identities. In this context, UNESCO’s intervention of recognising remarkable forms of cultural expression as “masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity” is a positive step in protecting cultural diversity and fostering creativity in popular and traditional forms of expression. According to UNESCO’s Implementation Guide which sets forth its statement of intent, this recognition is directed towards “the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community, expressed by a group of individuals and recognised as reflecting the expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity”.

Traditionally performed inside temple theatres called Koothambalams, Kutiyattam was sustained in the olden days by the patronage of kings and art aficionados belonging to the upper castes of Kerala.

Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre, India

Kutiyattam has distinctive features in terms of theatric conventions and methods of acting. A striking feature of this theatre is that it treats single acts from major Sanskrit plays as full-fledged plays. Kutiyattam elaborates the text of the play to such an extent that the poetic quality of a Sanskrit verse with its multiple layers of meaning and figures of speech gets its full play in its enactment. The extension of the performance text is so elaborate that a play can stretch up to 40 days and a single verse can take up to two hours through elaborate action. Theatric communication is through the actor’s body movements, a codified language of gestures and facial expressions. Kutiyattam endows great significance to facial expressions, and the face with its delicately-wrought eye, cheek, brow and lip movements and the elasticity of the facial muscles, can depict a gamut of emotions on the stage. The power of communication through the eyes (netrabhinaya) is so refined, persuasive and wide-ranging that it can portray any situation, thought or activity.

Kutiyattam has distinctive features in terms of theatric conventions and methods of acting. A striking feature of this theatre is that it treats single acts from major Sanskrit plays as full-fledged plays. Kutiyattam elaborates the text of the play to such an extent that the poetic quality of a Sanskrit verse with its multiple layers of meaning and figures of speech gets its full play in its enactment. The extension of the performance text is so elaborate that a play can stretch up to 40 days and a single verse can take up to two hours through elaborate action. Theatric communication is through the actor’s body movements, a codified language of gestures and facial expressions. Kutiyattam endows great significance to facial expressions, and the face with its delicately-wrought eye, cheek, brow and lip movements and the elasticity of the facial muscles, can depict a gamut of emotions on the stage. The power of communication through the eyes (netrabhinaya) is so refined, persuasive and wide-ranging that it can portray any situation, thought or activity.

http://gounesco.com.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/11065245/kutiyattam20131111114618_24_1-copy.jpghttp://gounesco.com.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/11065245/kutiyattam20131111114618_24_1-copy-150x150.jpgAfnan KayalArts and CraftsICH ResearchIntangible HeritageStudent ProgramAfnan Kayal,ICH Research,kerala,kutiyattam
Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre from Kerala, and 18 other forms of cultural expression have been declared by UNESCO as 'Masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity', an initiative that draws attention to remarkable cultural spaces. SUDHA GOPALAKRISHNAN examines the rationale behind the move. The recognition of Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit...