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John's Dissertation on Kutiyattam


On this page are links to the complete text of The Traditions, Training and Performance of Kutiyattam, Sanskrit Drama in South India, John Sowle's dissertation for his Ph.D. degree in Dramatic Art at U.C. Berkeley Please feel free to respond with comments, questions, and corrections by clicking on the link above to create an email to john@kaliyuga.com.


Kutiyattam is an ancient form of dramatic art still performed in central Kerala State in south-west India.  It is the only living tradition of acting Sanskrit drama; perhaps it is the oldest form of dramatic performances extant in the world.  The author spent a year-long period during 1973-74 on a Fulbright Fellowship at the Kerala Kalamandalam learning basic elements of the form from the master actor and teacher of Kutiyattam, Raman Cakyar.  The study is an outgrowth of this experience.

Kutiyattam uses Sanskrit dramatic texts, yet it does not leave the text to stand alone.  Only a single act of a drama is performed at a time, and this act may require several weeks of nightly performances to complete.  The lengthy additions to the original text include: 1) ritual, orchestral, and vocal preliminaries, 2) detailed descriptions of the given circumstances of the major characters in a highly stylized gesture language, and 3) elaborate digressions of the text signed in gesture language and spoken in the vernacular.

The present form and style of Kutiyattam developed about the tenth century A.D. and was influenced by the cultural patterns in Kerala at that time.  Chapter I examines these influences, including relevant aspects of the Sanskrit dramatic texts, early Tamil performance traditions, and the history, literature and arts of Kerala.

Kutiyattam requires actors disciplined in massage, in physical exercise, in musical form, in history, language, and culture, and in  complex coordination of the voice, the hands, and the face. Chapter II explains how the young Kutiyattam student masters the intricate techniques of his or her art and describes basic trainings pieces in the Kutiyattam repertoire.

Chapter III discusses the physical theatre, the actors' preparations for performance, the performance itself, and the audience's relationship to performer and performance.  Parallels are suggested between Kutiyattam and the religious and ritual practices of the people of Kerala

Color photographs of Kutiyattam performances are included. 


Chapter 1 - Traditions and Text

Chapter 2 - Training and Technique

Chapter 3 - Performance: Transformation and Reception


Appendix and Bibliography


Audio Files

Here are the audio samples of Indalam Svara that are notated in the dissertation, Chapter 2, Page 149.  These are from field recordings made in 1974.
Raman Cakyar
Madhva Cakyar
Mani Madhva Cakyar
Here are samples of other svaras from each Cakyar
Raman Cakyar Part I
Raman Ckayar Part II
Madhva Cakyar
Mani Madhva Cakyar
Here is 11-year-old Narayana Cakyar doing the svara from Nitya Kriya
Narayana Cakyar


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