Therukoothu: Tamil Nadu's street theatre fading into oblivion

Therukoothu: Tamil Nadu’s street theatre fading into oblivion

Therukoothu: Tamil Nadu's street theatre fading into oblivion therukuttu koothu rural folk theatre 30stades

Therukoothu or Therukuttu is a street theatre from Tamil Nadu. Theru in Tamil means street and Koothu means theatre. The folk art form dates back 200 to 300 years. Therukoothu: Tamil Nadu’s street theatre fading into oblivion

Therukoothu or Therukuttu is a street theatre from Tamil Nadu. Theru in Tamil means street while Koothu means theatre. The rural folk art dates back 200 to 300 years.

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In olden times, the artists were respected for their skills and were invited to perform in villages during the festivals. Like other folk theatres, Therukoothu was not only a mode of entertainment at a time when there were no televisions or radios but also a medium of social instruction. Through the performing folk art, people learned about the history and culture of Tamil Nadu.

However, with modern forms of entertainment, Therukoothu has taken a backseat and is facing an uncertain future as young people are not learning the art form and performances and audiences have shrunk.

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A Therukoothu performance generally begins at around 10 pm and lasts until dawn.

The themes are drawn from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, mythological stories and classical Tamil texts.  

An artist playing the role of Kovalan, the central character in ancient Tamil epic Silappatikaram. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
An artist playing the role of Kovalan, the central character in ancient Tamil epic Silappatikaram. Pic: Wikipedia

Traditionally, the theatre was performed only by men and the tradition has continued. Since Therukoothu was a mobile art form and artists travelled from one village to another during medieval times, it was thought more suited for men.

Therukoothu plays are a combination of music, dance and drama.

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The artists are trained musicians with powerful voices. This was especially important in olden times when there were no microphones and the artist’s voice had to reach the entire audience.

The musical instruments used by the Therukoothu musicians include harmonium, drums, Mukhvinai and cymbals.

Therukoothu was not only a mode of entertainment but also a medium of social instruction. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Therukoothu was not only a mode of entertainment but also a medium of social instruction. Pic: Flickr

The costumes of artists are heavily embellished with bright colours. The make-up too is heavy and elaborate so the entire audience can see the characters.

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The artists wear a large headdress, epaulettes and long, voluminous skirts. The dresses are decorated with designs, beads and artificial ornaments.

The plays take place in a temple courtyard or ground in the village. A stage is set up and the musicians and singers sit at the back.

The artists wear a large headdress. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The artists wear a large headdress. Pic: Flickr

The play begins with an invocation to Lord Ganesha. Two persons holding a curtain enter the arena along with an actor dressed as Lord Ganesha. The singers sing an invocation to Lord Ganesha and other deities.

After this, the Kattiyakkaran (narrator and jester) enters the stage and narrates the story of the play and introduces the characters. In the traditional play, the narrator is a crucial element who links and weaves the story together, provides narration and context wherever required on stage.

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Since the performance lasts through the night, the narrator provides comic relief between scenes, interacts with audiences and lampoons contemporary rural situations.

The make-up is heavy and elaborate so the entire audience can see the characters. Pic: Wikimedia 30stades
The make-up is heavy and elaborate so the entire audience can see the characters. Pic: Wikimedia

There are different forms of Koothu such as Nattukoothu, Kuravaikoothu, and Vallikoothu which depict the culture of the Tamil land. Samayakoothu is based on religious topics while Porkaalakoothu, Peikoothu, Thunangaikoothu depict the martial arts. While Therukoothu has a rich history behind it, the future is uncertain given the declining interest of the audience as well as the younger generation. More pictures here:

The costumes of Therukoothu artists are heavily embellished and bright coloured. Pic: Flickr
The costumes of Therukoothu artists are heavily embellished and bright coloured. Pic: Flickr

Read More: Yakshagana: Karnataka’s ancient theatrical dance art adapts to reach global audience

Therukoothu performance begins at 10pm and continues till dawn. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Therukoothu performance begins at 10pm and continues till dawn. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: Buried at birth, how Gulabo Sapera survived to become the global ambassador of Rajasthan’s Kalbelia folk dance:

The artists wear voluminous skirts and the dresses are decorated with designs, beads etc. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The artists wear voluminous skirts and the dresses are decorated with designs, beads etc. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: Five Indian performing arts that might soon be lost forever

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