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This website gives you the authentic and comprehensive information about Mudiyettu Traditional Art Form and its practitioners, as this is launched by the researchers for UNESCO.

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Mudiyettu, the traditional - ritual performing art of Kerala, has been inscribed by UNESCO in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Dr. Chunkath. K. Thomas and Mrs. Meena Paul are the two researchers, who submitted the proposal to UNESCO through Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Department of Culture Government of India, New Delhi. Natyavedi Kerala and Artists Co-operative, the two cultural institutions in Kerala coordinated with them in this endeavour.

Concerned Organizations, Representatives

MUDIYETTU, is a traditional ritualistic theatre performance presented in Bhagavati temples in the central part of Kerala.

The Presentation

Mudiyettu is a ritualistic presentation of Kali -Darika myth with the co operation and participation of the whole village and it lasts for a week, a month or upto 41 days. The villagers reach the temple on an auspicious day after the harvest and present the best of the yield as homage to Goddess Kali. The traditional performers of Mudiyettu prepare a tantric design of Goddess Kali inside the temple on the floor. The hymns of Goddess Kali are recited with the background music of traditional instruments. With the blend of panchavarna kalam (five coloured design of Goddess) it creates an exotic ambience that helps the performers to possess the spirit of their Goddess and transform into superhuman godly characters. The performance takes a dramatic turn when Darika, a demon in Hindu Purana, challenges Kali on the top of the eastern mountains. Kali, believed to be born out of Lord Siva’s third eye, retaliates. Kooli, the counterpart of Kali representing the jovial aspects of the mother through histrionics and Koimpada Nair, the chieftain of the Boothaganas, become her allies in the fight. The temple courtyard turns out to be a virtual battle field and the villagers become part and parcel of the ritual-theatre event. At the end of the play, Kali defeats her adversaries and performs the dance of victory. The relieved devotees hail their Goddess and welcome the dawn of a peaceful and prosperous year.

The tradition is linked to cultivation and harvest. Mudiyettu is held after the harvests during Nov-April in the paddy fields belong to the Bhagavati kavus or temple courtyard. Mudiyettu is originally performed in the kavus of the following three popular river banks of Kerala.

  • CHALAKKUDY RIVER (Thrissur District)
  • PERIYAR (Ernakulam & Idukki District)
  • MOOVATTUPUZHA (Kottayam District)

Male members of Marar and Kuruppu families in Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam and Iddukki districts are the only performers of Mudiyettu.

At present, descendants of three traditional families in Kerala perform Mudiyetttu on regular basis.

  • Pazhoor Damodara Marar Smaraka Gurukulam, Ernakulam District
  • Sankarankutty Marar Smaraka Mudiyettu Sangham, Ernakulam District
  • Varanattu Family Mudiyettu performers Koratty, Thrissur District. At present, there are two teams originated from the family.

The Myth and Its background

Mudiyettu carries forward the tradition of Badra Kali worship and the victory of good over evil. It is held every year as a custom, an offering or an expression of the collective response of a community with its traditional craft and artistry. Though the performance takes place in the temple courtyard, it really springs up from the depths of their mind nourished by poetic imaginations and contributing to the total theatre with all its hymns, rituals, dramatic dialogues, movements, music and fine arts.

Performance of Mudiyettu emphasizes the dictum, “The theatre of earth never dies”. The myth and style of presentation and collective participation in Mudiyettu clearly demonstrates the continuity of an age old tradition and transmission of multi layered values for the very existence of a healthy society. The myth about Darika runs as follows- In Markandeya Purana,  Asuras (demons) are defeated by Devas (deities). To prevent annihilation of the entire tribe, a few Asuras escape and live in hide. During one such enforced hiding, two Asura women, Darumathi and Danavathi, start penance to please God Brahma and are successful in obtaining a boon from the Lord for mighty off-springs. Darika is thus born as a mighty son to Darumathi. In order to be powerful enough to conquer Indra, the king of Devas and attain immortality, he performs a severe penance to please Lord Brahma. The Lord, pleased with his devotee, appears before him and bestows all the varas (boons) that Darika asks for. One blessing that Darika seeks is that he must neither be slain by any man from the fourteen worlds nor be killed with any known weapon. Another boon he attains is that a drop of his blood, when spilt, should cause the birth of a thousand Darikas, each with the strength of a thousand elephants. The Brahmopadesa Mantra is also passed on to him to be kept secretly for his use. But, strangely enough, together with these boons a curse also befalls him. As he ignored the chance of being killed by a woman, the Lord curses him that he shall die at the hands of a woman born in the Deva class.

Feeling triumphant and bragging that he is invincible, Darika sets out to fulfill his long cherished desire of conquering Devas. As the name of Darika spreads, those Asuras living in hide come out to serve their new king. Thus commences the despotic reign of Darika. At last, Devas and Rishis like Narada, disturbed by the tyranny of Darika, deputes Kali and Bhoothas for his murder. Riding on Vethala and with an army of Bhoothas, led by NandiBhadraKali challenges Darika on the battlefield. In the first phase of the fight, Kali and followers face a set-back as she faints. Kali realizes that Darika is defended by Brahmopadesha Mantra. Darika continues to fight undauntedly. But, at last Kali cunningly obtains the Mantra and rescues the world from his evil subjugation by killing Darika.  

The ritual performance of Mudiyettu, more than a secular entertainment, is meant to bring about purification or rejuvenation to the whole community .Within the structure of the self-contained village economy of the past, Mudiyettu is organized as a total festival centred at the most important temple or Bhagavati Kavu of the locality. The temple provides a focal point and people of all castes and tribes are drawn into it. Each caste has a special role which ensures its participation and its importance as well. The Parayan provides the leather for the drum, and bamboo artifacts. The Tandan brings the areca nut fronds required for the masks and headgear. The Ganakan paints the masks and sings. The Kuruvan keeps the country torches burning. The Veluthedan (patiyan) washes the clothes to be used for the deity’s dress. And the Maran gets the torches ready and keeps them supplied with oil. The Brahmin initiates the rituals inside the temple. Each caste with their professional expertise and refinement in art and craft contribute to this ritualistic performance. The Kurups or Marars with their entire ritualistic commitment draw the picture of Kali and by invocation bring ‘her’ into life and is later possessed by the performers into their body. This spiritual and visual transformation has developed into a full-fledged performing art. The core of the performance, no doubt is ritualistic and the human enactment of superhuman roles continue as sacred offering or sacrifice blossomed as a rich theatre in all aspects.

The final victory dance of Kali ensures immortality- the dramatic triumph over the forces of evil through the intervention of benign deities. The dramatic element probably holds out the possibility of human survival through the surrender of personal, extinction of personality, empathy and self-transcendence. The village artist who performs Mudiyettu ritual theatre knowingly or unknowingly seems to hold the key to the secret of all artforms in the sense of understanding different perspectives of life. Thus he attains universalization. The pronounced Shaivite content of various ritualistic items in Mudiyettu, points to a possible Dravidian origin and basis for this form of temple theatre. Mudiyettu is thus both religion and art, both ritual and entertainment. One can see the origins of the Dravidian theatre, in which drama is related not only to ‘yajna’ but to ‘aradhana.’

In Mudiyettu, we find the myth transformed into a beautiful art form with the aid of dramatic situations that harmoniously blend with the verisimilitude and sense of wonder. Time and influence by generations after generations have enriched its form and content. The highly developed music and performance style reveal this fact. However, they go a long way to enable us to get an insight into the culture, artistic vision and appreciation of the people of ancient times. In Mudiyettu, the dramatic appeal is augmented by a convincing transformation of men into Devas and Asuras. On the audio level, music, rhythm and accompaniments and on the visual level masks, make-up, costumes and choreographic patterns bear testimony to it.

The myth of Kali and Darika in Mudiyettu presents the victory of good over evil and promises a peaceful future for humanity.

Structure of the Art Form and Its Social Relevance

The performance of Mudiyettu is a complex cultural expression, which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by the members of the society and passed on to the next generation. The craftsmanship of making masks, headgears, breast plates, shoulder caps etc; the classical quality of vocal and instrumental music; style of emotional expression and enactment and all such elements; establish the natural evolution and refinement achieved by this art-form in the progress of civilization. Culture is considered to be the result of man’s interaction with nature, with his fellow beings and his own self. In Mudiyettu man becomes god and even terminates the highest evil from society. Though Darika was blessed with many boons, his evil character had no place in the culture of the traditional society. The same is the case even today. So the cultural expression merged with social mores represents a civilization which is rich and healthy.

Mudiyettu projects continuity of culture as the handiwork of man and as the medium through which he achieves his ends. For him, human needs imply something more than mere biological needs, but those needs are definitely associated with biological ones. The needs are to be fulfilled for which they have to innovate something in the realm of ideas and emotions that finally gives birth to culture. The confrontation of Kali with the evil represented by Darika and Danavendra and the final victory over the evil demonstrate this aspect. 

Presentation of Mudiyettu is a natural expression of art, but its types and manifestations depend on certain environmental, social and psychological conditions. The impact of the performance of Mudiyettu as an offering satisfies the various necessities of man, both mental and physical and also helps him in the psycho dynamic adjustments in a society where evil forces acquire power and threaten the peace and harmony. It also helps to obey and follow a common social code for a better healthy living of all the members in the society.

The ritual-folk theatre, Mudiyettu, seems to imply a whole complex theory of art, which is no way inferior to the so- called classical theatre. The assumption of divine or semi-divine roles by human beings, as we find in Mudiyettu itself is a demonstration of the power of imagination not only to understand reality, but even to go beyond existing or known forms of reality and to modify, recreate and manipulate it. The exemplary quality of artistic imagination derives ultimately from the limitless capacity of the folk audiences to visualize almost anything and encourage the folk artist to move to any length in his self-appointed task of creating what constitutes the only kind of reality that exists for him without resort to reason or dry arithmetic.

From day one, images of ‘Bhadra Kali ’ are drawn on the floor of the temple with natural colours, which is called Kalamezhuthu.  The Kalam or drawing on the floor and the related rituals are offered by each family in the village. Pujas and musical worship are also organised during these days. By marking the end of the 40 days’ of vigorous worship, Mudiyettu is performed on the 41st day possessing the spirit of Kali imbibed on the Kalam.

As per the legend the ‘Bhootha ganas’, in their attempt to bring down the wrath of Kali  after Darika Vadha (killing of Dharika), drew using the crushed leaves in the forest, the ferocious picture of Kali  holding the head of Darika in her hands. Kali was pleased and satisfied on seeing her pictures. She enquired about the artist who did this marvelous job. They came forward, touched her feet and recited songs in her praise. These songs were later known as ‘kalampattu’ and the artist who drew the pictures (kalam kurichavar) were known as ‘kuruppu’. Both the kalam (tantric design) on the floor and the pattu (worship songs) have been polished and refined over generations. The genius of Mudiyettu music is carried on by the complementary and, at times, the dialectical interplay between tradition and innovation. Originality and innovation imply both continuance of, and departure from the inherited and implied traditional idioms.

represents the perfection of aesthetic concept.

  1. Chitra vadivu - pictorial perfection.
  2. Shilpa vadivu - sculptural perfection.
  3. Bhootha vadivu - spiritual perfection.

Kalam ezhuth represents the perfection of pictorial aspect, whereas aniyalam represents the sculpture and kolam represents the spirit.

Performance of Mudiyettu is the depiction of theatre complete in all aspects:

  1. Angika Pushti - perfection in gestures
  2. Vanchika Pushti - perfection in dialogue and music
  3. Pushti - perfection in emotional expression
  4. Aharya Pushti - perfection in costumes
  5. Nirta Pushti - perfection in dance and movements
  6. Ranga Pushti - perfection in theatrical spectacle
  7. Aasaya Pushti - perfection in message with moral values

Transmission and propagation of such a healthy tradition of total theatre will definitely help the society to move forward in positive directions.