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Nangiar Koothu: The Classical Dance – Theatre of the Nangiar’s

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Item Code: NAD040
Author: Nirmala Paniker
Publisher: Natana Kairali, Kerala
Edition: 2005
Pages: 223 (10 B/W & 9 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 Inch X 5.5 Inch
Weight 370 gm
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Book Description
Back of the Book

Nirmala Paniker the author of the monograph has done commendable work by briefly tracing the history of the Chera Kingdom the references to dancers in early Tamil Literature Including the Patittrupathu and the twin epics of Chilappatikaram and Manimekhalai. The mention of Kadalattu Katai and the 11 types of Koothu description in the context of indrotsava is of great importance because many sculptural reliefs in Kerala both in stone and in wood depict these particular forms of the Koothu-s.


Natana Kairali a young institution has taken up a serious and systematic study of ancient traditions of the arts in Kerala. I am glad that ht second in the documentation series on Kutiyattam is devoted to the Nangiar Kootu the theratre of the nangiar’s. there has been a considerable bebate in regard in regard to the absence of women dancers in Kathakali and Krishnanattam. The presence of women actors in an older tradition like Koothu or Kutiyattam naturally demanded an investigation into the history of women dancers in Kerala.

Nirmala Paniker the author of the monograph has done commendable work by briefly tracing the history of the chera kingdom the references to dancer in early Tamil literature including the patittruppathu and the twin epics of chilappatikaram and Manimekhalai. The mention of Kadalattu Katai and the 11 types of Koothu description in the context of Indrotsava is of great importance because many sculptural reliefs in Kerala both in stone and in wood depict these Particular forms of the Koothu-s there is scope here for further co-relating the literary references and the sculptural reliefs.

Nirmala Paniker however rightly restricts herself to tracing the history of women dancers in the context of the temples and the tradition known by its generic term Devadasi. She presents her material briefly and surveys nearly 500 years of history from the 10th to 15th century and then focuses her attention on development from the 19th century onwards. The socio cultural status of the nangiar-s in the Kinship patterns of both the Chakyar-s and the Nambiar-s is as revealing to those not acquainted with the complex systems which conditioned artistic performance and are in turn, conditioned by the artistic performance.

The chapter on Nangiar and her performances within the precincts of koothambalam provide an insight into the relationship between the artist presenting shows in Koothambalam and the temple authorities. Nirmala Paniker brings her socio cultural history to a culmination by recounting the efforts made by the Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar to revive the Nangiar Koothu since 1984.

The briefly narrated history contains seeds for more extensive and indepth research. I have no doubt that this will also be attempted by Natana Kairali.

The section which relates to the Nangiar Koothu artistic forms its make up costumes music, the repertoire the performance as also its relationship with other forms such as Teyyam Koothu, Mohiniyattam and finally. Krishnanattam are clear and lucid. An attempt has also been made to relate Nangiar Koothu to the Natyasastra and the Kerala text, Hastalakshnadipika.

The most informative chapter relates to attaprakaram of the Nangiar Koothu. This is indeed a pioneering effort to record the attaprakaram on Nangiar Koothu. This will benefit both the scholars as also the performing artists. The appendices contain some very valuable excerpts from interviews with the living legends of Nangiar Koothu specially sreemati Kunjipillakutty Nangiar.


In the midst of serene coconut groves of Kerala Providence and the genius of Keralites preserved for us what appears to be the ancient most art of theatre that can boast of an unbroken tradition of performing practice from the times of the Natyasastra. It is a proof of unsurpassed devotion to one’s own tradition in which Keralites are second to none.

When in 19641 had a privilege to contribute my little bit to the organization of the first ever tour of the North India by Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar of Lakkidi-after having witnessed a performance of the Abhishekanatakani at the court of the Maharaja of Kashi at the Ramnagar Fort I became strongly convinced that this fine art of classical theatre equals the most priced monuments of the world-nay, it surpasses them for the Egyptian pyramids. Taj Mahal and similar such other monuments are of stone while the Koothu theatrical tradition of Kerala is a monument made of human devotion, dedication, perseverance, faith and the very deep sense of beauty that conquers time itself.

It is a matter of great joy and satisfaction that contemporary Kerala intellectuals braced themselves to the task of documenting and thus preserving for posterity this finest art of theatre. Ms. Nirmala Paniker belongs to such persons who decided to collect tirelessly all that can have bearing upon our knowledge of the performing tradition of Kerala.

One of the unusual aspects of the traditional stage of Kerala is the presence on it of actresses. The book in hand deals with this aspect bringing together all information that the Author was able to find both in the written texts and in the oral tradition preserved in the memory of the particular ambalavasi community that consists of Chakyar-s, Nan giar-s and Nambiar-s. Very special praise the Author deserves for giving in print the text of Sanskrit akkitha verses that precede the purappathi and those that are sung in the accompaniment to it. Next to this the reader will find in this little booklet a very interesting translation of the attaprakarain of Sree Krishna Charitam. This acting manual very peculiar to the theatre tradition of Kerala gives an excellent insight into the manner in which each Sanskrit verse of the play is elaborated in the mute through eloquent language of gestures. Apart from that the book contains much more valuable material coming directly from those directly involved until this very day in the art of Koothu.

The author deserves praise and gratitude for initiating the work that will certainly one day permit a comprehensive critical evaluation in the form of a monograph of the classical art of theatre in Kerala Kudos to the author Again.

Author’s Note

It was about thirty years back that I came across Nangiar Koothu for the first time when I was delving deep into the relationship between Mohiniyattam and the other art forms of Kerala women.

I began my research studies on Mohiniyattam in the 1970s when the Kerala Characteristics of Mohiniyattam were being questioned. There was a contention that the dance form of Mohiniyattam gradually took shape from the art forms like Ammanattam, Panthattam, Oonhalattam, Penkoothu and Thiruvanthirakkali which are said to be some of the ancient folk and traditional dances exclusive to the women of Kerala. There was also an opinion that it is the artistic expression of the traditional Devadasi dance that was prevalent in Tamil Nadu, moulded in the crucible of the genius of Kerala. Yet others are of the view that it is none of these but a dance which was the brainchild of the Maharaja Swathi Thirunal. It these arguments were going on that I felt he need to investigate the truth about the origin of this dance form.

As this investigation progressed I happened to hear about the performing arts like Koothu Kutiyattam and Nangiarkoothu. Being a Natya oriented performing art and done exclusively by women. I was fascinated by Nanigarkoothu. I happened to get an interview with Mani Madhava Chakyar who was well known in the field of Kutiyattam Koothu and such other arts. He had come to participate in the national Drama festival organized in 1977 by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi at the Kerala Fine arts hall student researching on Mohiniyattam and time when I told him that I was a student researching on Mohiniyattam and would like to know a few facts about Nangiarkoothu. He spoke to me in detail about Nangiarammas and their role in Kutiyattam. And he suggested to me that I meet one Nangiaramma who was in Kottayam if I wanted to know more about the Nangairkoothu of the Nangiars.

He added that he didn’t know much about the connection between mohiniyattam and Nangiarkoothu but that it could be understood that some of the heroines of the Manipravaala poems were Nangiarammaas while the others were danseuses like the Devadasis. He also said that a deep analysis might help bring to light more information. Besides it might reveal that the danseuses found in the temple sculptures were of more than one type and an investigation on those lines would be good. Lastly he told me not to hesitate to go to Kottayam.


Author’s Notexii
Acknowledgements xxiv
The Danseuses of Ancient kerala1
The Nangiar-s21
Nangiar Koothu28
Attaprakaram (Acting Manual) of Nangiar Koothu53
Appendix 1 Excerpts from the Interviews160
Appendix 2 Legends about Nangiar-s165
Appendix 3168
Bibliography 183
**Contents and Sample Pages**

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