A dying art throbs with life

For many students of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kodunganoor, it was perhaps their first glimpse of how five colours sourced from nature could be used to create art, that too on the floor.

The students had gathered at the school on Saturday afternoon to watch Theeyattu, an art form native to Central Travancore, as part of a cultural outreach programme organised by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram centre, and the Infosys Foundation, Bengaluru.

The students watched as Theeyattu practitioners Vaikom Sasidhara Sarma, Sreejith Sarma, Sarath Sarma, Hari Krishnan, and Vijayan Varriar used the coloured powders to draw a large figure of Bhadrakali using their thumb and index finger in a ritual called Kalamezhuthu.

Five colours

The powders representing the five elements are made from rice (white), turmeric (yellow), charcoal of husk (black), mixture of lime and turmeric (red), and green leaves of the 'vaga.' Bhadrakali is shown in a fierce mood, after the killing of Darikasura.

Hariprasad, a class 11 student of the school, said while he was aware of the Kalamezhuthu ritual, he had not heard of Theeyattu, and found the Kalamezhuthu interesting.

Another student Achyuth S. said he found it amazing how the artistes drew the Kalam freehand. The programme, he hoped, would help the students learn more about the State's diverse culture.

Kalamezhuthu starts with songs in praise of gods, to the accompaniment of traditional instruments such as 'Para,' 'Elathalam,' and 'Chengila.' Once it is over, lit oil lamps are placed to heighten the colours.

Then comes Sandhyakoothu in which the percussion instruments join in concert in a ritual to announc the performance. Gurudi is performed to appease the demons who assist Kali. Only then does the Theeyattu performance begin. A single actor dons the make-up of Kali, minus the headgear. After several chants and invocations, the actor dons the headgear to represent Kali. The performance is presented as if Kali is reporting the killing of Darikasura to Lord Siva, her father. The act concludes with the killing of Darikasura.

Theeyattu was the first of bimonthly performances to be held over the next 12 months as part of a programme in 11 States across the country to protect and promote art forms that are on the verge of extinction and support their practitioners who are neglected.

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