Showing posts with label Tamil Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tamil Literature. Show all posts

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Dance and Drama of Ancient Tamils: Part 2 As Illustrated in Aragetru Kadhai, Silappadikaram

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Madhavi PC The Hindu
Silappadikaram: Treasure Trove of Music and Dance 

The post-Sangam period is noted for the compilation five great epics Silappadikaram (சிலப்பதிகாரம்), Manimekalai (மணிமேகலை), Jivakacintamani (சீவகசிந்தாமணி), Valaiyapati (வளையாபதி), and Kundalakesi (குண்டலகேசி). Thiruthanigai Ula (திருத்தணிகை உலா), early 19th century minor literary work, first mentioned the names of five great epics. Another minor literary work Tamil Vidu Toothu (தமிழ்விடு தூது) referred five great epics as 'Panchakavyam' (பஞ்சகவ்யம்). Five great epics, written over a period of 1st century AD to 10th century AD, portrays the social, religious, cultural and academic life of Tamil society during Sangam era. Dance, music and drama were always been part of ancient Tamil society. 

Silapadikaram (‘The Story of Anklet’), composed by Ilango adigal (இளங்கோ அடிகள்), the Jain poet-prince from Chera country, is considered as the treasure trove of information on music and dance, (both classical and folk) of the period, dealing in great detail with the intricacies and techniques involved. It contains three chapters and a total of 5270 lines (13,870 words) of poetry. The epic, as in Sangam poems, do not revolve around the five land divisions (திணை) (Kurinji (குறிஞ்சி), Mullai (முல்லை), Marudam (மருதம்), Neidal (நெய்தல்) and Palai (பாலை). Instead it adopts the novel convention of considering the geographical and political divisions of Tamil country i.e., Chola (சோழர்), Pandya (பாண்டியர்) and Chera (சேரர்) in relation to their capitals i.e., Poompukar (பூம்புகார்), Madurai (மதுரை), and Vanji (வஞ்சி). Thus the epic was aptly divided into three Kandams (Cantos) i.e., Pukark-kandam (புகார்க் காண்டம் – Pukar canto), Maduraik-kandam (மதுரைக் காண்டம் – Madurai canto) and Vanchik-kandam (வஞ்சிக் காண்டம் – Vanchi canto). It uses akaval meter (monologue) (அகவற்பா), a style adopted in most poems in  Sangam literature. Adiyarkk unallar (அடியார்க்கு நல்லார்), renowned Silappadikaram commentator, delineated the essential nature of poems by virtue of content that forms a unity of having elements of poetry (iyal), music (isai) and drama (natakam) (இயல் இசை நாடக பொருள் தொடர் நிலை செய்யுள்).  

The date is assignable to 2nd century AD. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer (உ.வே சுவாமிநாத அய்யர்) (1855-1942 CE) found that the ancient Tamil poems in palm leaf manuscripts left in a state of neglect and gradual destruction. The Tamil scholar  resurrected Silappadikaram from palm leaf format  and reprinted the epic from palm leaf format to paper book format in 1892 AD. So we are familiar with the printed book of this epic for the past 124 years only.

The epic is attributable for standardizing the folk songs to literary genre.   The epic also details about``yazh'' (14 stringed instrument - lute)  as well as various various Panns, their grammar and demonstrates how different compositions of swaras to result into different ragas with the help of the ``yazh'

Silappadikaram Story

Silappadikaram is the first Tamil epic composed about the life of an ordinary countryman. Kovalan was the son of the merchant prince Masathuvan (மாசாத்துவான்) 
மண்தேய்த்த புகழினான் மதிமுக மடவார்தம் 
பண்தேய்த்த மொழியினார் ஆயத்துப் பாராட்டிக் 
கண்டுஏத்தும் செவ்வேள்என்று இசைபோக்கிக் காதலால் 
கொண்டுஏத்தும் கிழமையான் கோவலன்என் பான்மன்னோ.

That boy was such great fame that the earth was too small to contain it. He was such beauty that moon face damsels, with speech sweet as music, became enamoured of him and sang his praise in the company of girl friends saying: "This is verily Lord Murugan taking visible form to be worshiped by us." His name was Kovalan.

Kannagi was the daughter of the celebrated sea captain Manaikan (மாநாய்கன்). 

போதில்ஆர் திருவினாள் புகழுடை வடிவென்றும் 
தீதிலா வடமீனின் திறம்இவள் திறம்என்றும் 
மாதரார் தொழுதுஏத்த வயங்கிய பெருங்குணத்துக் 
காதலாள் பெயர்மன்னும் கண்ணகிஎன் பாள்மன்னோ,

"The beauty of this damsel is like that of goddess Lakshmi who dwells on the lotus. Her virtue is truly like that of the North Star. She was in love with goodness; her name was Kannagi."  

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Kannagi Kovalan Wedding Procession PC Vallamai

மாலைதாழ் சென்னி வயிரமணித் தூ஡ணகத்து 

நீல விதானத்து நித்திலப்பூம் பந்தர்க்கீழ்
வான்ஊர் மதியம் சகடுஅணைய வானத்துச் 50

சாலி ஒருமீன் தகையாளைக் கோவலன் 
மாமுது பார்ப்பான் மறைவழி காட்டிடத் 
தீவலம் செய்வது ... ..

The parents of of Kovalan and Kannagi celebrated the marriage on an auspicious day on which the Rohini star joins the moon. In a hall with gem studded pillars, decorated with flower garlands hanging above,  under the canopy of blue silk and pearls, with the preceptor guiding him, Kovalan married Kannagi. The couple united like the god of love and his spouse and lived together happily for some time. Kovalan's parents gave a part of the family wealth along with a number of servitors and helped them set up their own household. Kannagi managed her household in a praiseworthy manner.
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Kovalan - Madhavi
Kovalan met the dancer Madhavi (மாமலர் நெடுங்கண் மாதவி) with lotus like eyes in a festival at royal court and fell in love with her. He stayed in Madhavi's home and was so enthralled in embracing her and did not like to part her. In such an infatuation he forgot Kannagi and his home..

மணமனை புக்கு மாதவி தன்னொடு 
அணைவுறு வைகலின் அயர்ந்தனன் மயங்கி 
விடுதல் அறியா விருப்பினன் ஆயினன். 
வடுநீங்கு சிறப்பின்தன் மனையகம் மறந்து

Kovalan also spent all his wealth, obtained through his ancestors, for Madhavi. He got frustrated with Madhavi after some time and breaks off from Madhavi.  He returned repentantly to his uncomplaining wife Kannagi.
சலம்புணர் கொள்கைச் சலதியொடு ஆடிக் 
குலம்தரு வான்பொருள் குன்றம் தொலைந்த
இலம்பாடு நாணுத் தரும்

Kannagi gave her pair of anklets willingly (நலம்கேழ் முறுவல் நகைமுகம் காட்டிச் சிலம்புஉள கொண்மின்) and Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by selling one of his wife's anklets They proceeded to the great city Madurai. (சிலம்பு முதலாகச் சென்ற கலனொடு  உலந்தபொருள் ஈட்டுதல் உற்றேன் மலர்ந்தசீர் மாட மதுரை யகத்துச்சென்று). On arrival at Madurai they found shelter in a cottage. Kovalan visited to the Madurai market to sell one of the anklet. 

In the meant time, an extremely wicked jeweller  robbed the anklet (appearing similar to Kannagi's anklet) of the queen of Pandyan Nedunchezhiyan. On seeing the Kovalan with Kannagi's anklet, the jeweller seized the same and informed the king. 
சிலம்பின் செய்வினை யெல்லாம்
பொய்த்தொழிற் கொல்லன் புரிந்துடன் நோக்கிக்

கோப்பெருந் தேவிக் கல்லதை இச்சிலம்பு
யாப்புற வில்லை யெனமுன் போந்து
விறல்மிகு வேந்தற்கு விளம்பியான் வரவென்
சிறுகுடி லங்கண் இருமின்

Kovalan was accused as the thief (சிலம்பு கொண்ட கள்வன்). The Pandyan sent his guards to apprehend Kovalan and the guards killed Kovalan and taken the anklet to Pandya's court.  
... ...  என் 
தாழ்பூங் கோதை தன்காற் சிலம்பு
கன்றிய கள்வன் கைய தாகில்
கொன்றச் சிலம்பு கொணர்க

கல்லாக் களிமக னொருவன் கையில்
வெள்வாள் எறிந்தனன் விலங்கூ டறுத்தது
... ... ...
... ... ...
காவலன் செங்கோல் வளைஇய வீழ்ந்தனன்
கோவலன் பண்டை ஊழ்வினை உருத்தென்.

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Kannagi in Pandya Court PC Vallamai
பொங்கி எழுந்தாள் விழுந்தாள் ....
செங்கண் சிவப்ப அழுதாள்

The news of Kovalan's murder reached Kannagi and her eyes ablaze with anger she rushed immediately with her remaining anklet (நின்ற சிலம்பொன்று கையேந்தி). She proved her husband's innocence before Pandyan Nedunchezhiyan. Kannagi cursed the Madurai city to set ablaze to flames.  The patron goddess of Madurai city interceded Kannagi and she accepted to withdraw her curse and the fire ablated. Later Kannagi reached the hill outside the city and after her death she reunited with Kovalan in heaven. The news of her struggle and death spread across the Tamil Land. Kannagi was deified, people built temples and held festivals in honor of Kannagi. She became an icon of wifely loyalty and chastity and she is being deified as patron goddess.

Commentary of Adiyakku Nallar on Koothu 

In the third chapter, Arangetrukaadai” (அரங்கேற்று காதை) or “the debut on-stage performance,” details the knowledge and skills necessary for a dancer, dance master (ஆடல் ஆசான்), the composer of verses (பாடல் ஆசிரியர்), the drummer (percussion) instrumentalist (தண்ணுமை (மிருதங்கம்) என்னும் தாளவிசைக் கருவி வாசிப்பவர்), flutist (புல்லாங்குழல் (வாய்க்காற்றால் ஊதி இசைக்கப்படும் கருவி) வாசிப்பவர்) and yazh (lute) (string) instrumentalist (யாழ் நரம்பு இசைக்கருவி வாசிப்பவர்).
இருவகைக் கூத்தின் இலக்கணம் அறிந்து 
பலவகைக் கூத்தும் விலக்கினிற் புணர்த்துப் 
பதினோர் ஆடலும் பாட்டும் கொட்டும் 
விதிமாண் கொள்கையின் விளங்க அறிந்து

The dance master should know the nuances of the two 'koothus' i.e., Aka-koothu (அகக்கூத்து) and Pura-koothu (புறக்கூத்து). Aka-koothu, also known as 'Vettiyal-koothu,' (வேத்தியல் கூத்து) will be performed in royal courts before king and the royal court-officials. Pura-koothu, also known as 'Pothuviyal-koothu,' (பொதுவியல் கூத்து) will be performed before common mass. The dance master should also be proficient in eleven modes of dances: 1.Kadayam (கடையம்), 2. Marakkal (மரக்கால்), 3.Kudai (குடை), 4.Thudi (துடி), 5.Mal (மால்), 6.Alliam (அல்லியம்), 7.Kumbam / kudam (கும்பம் / குடம்), 8.Pedu (பேடு), 9.Pavai (பாவை): 10. Pandarangam (பாண்டரங்கம்),  and 11. Kodukotti (கொடுகொட்டி). A Tamil poem helps one to remember these eleven dance modes:    

'கடையம், அயிராணி மரக்கால்விந்தை, கந்தன், குடை, துடிமால், அல்லியமல், கும்பம் - சுடர்விழியால் பட்டமதன் பேடுதிருப் பாவை அரண் பாண்டரங்கம் கொட்டியிவை காண்பதினோர் கூத்து'

Adiyarkku Nallar (12th / 13th century AD), renowned commentator, covers the entire work of Silappadikaram and cites the ancient Tamil works on verse, prose and drama in his commentary. The commentator details the koothus in pairs:

1. Vettiyal (வேத்தியல்) against Pothuviyal (பொதுவியல்); 2. Santhi koothu (சாந்திக் கூத்து) against Vinotha koothu (விநோதக் கூத்து); 3. Vari koothu (வரிக்கூத்து) against Vari-Santhi koothu (வரிசாந்திக் கூத்து); 4. Vasai koothu (வசைக் கூத்து) against Pukal koothu (புகழ்க் கூத்து); 5. Ariya koothu (ஆரியக் கூத்து) against Tamil koothu (தமிழ்க் கூத்து); 6. Eyalpu koothu (இயல்புக் கூத்து) against Desi koothu (தேசிக் கூத்து).

Santhi koothu (சாந்திக் கூத்து) comprise four kinds of koothus i.e., 1. Chokam (சொக்கம்), 2. Mei koothu (மெய்க் கூத்து), 3. Abinaya (அவிநயம்) and 4. Natakam (நாடகம்). Chokam, also known as 'Suddha Nrittam,' (சுத்த நிருத்தம்) which constitutes '108 Thandava Karanas' (108 தாண்டவ கரணங்கள்) Mei koothu (மெய்க் கூத்து) is made up of dumb-shows with gesticulations and conventional posturing. Abhinaya (அவிநயம்) depicts in action and poses, the feelings and sensations as experienced by the person, as described by the words of the songs. Abinaya includes both Rasa-abinaya and Vachika-abinaya. Natakam relates to huge story or epic. The play is divided into many scenes of poems and conversations. Natakam (நாடகம்) is based on Sanskrit and Tamil literature. Since Vinotha koothu (விநோதக் கூத்து) is oriented towards entertainment, fun and play, it incorporates some quantity of artful trickery and jugglery i.e., balancing on rope, puppetry, balancing tiers of pots on the head etc., It includes seven variants: 1. Kuravai koothu (குரவைக் கூத்து), 2. Kallai koothu (கல்லைக் கூத்து), 3. Kuda koothu (குடக்  கூத்து), 4. Karanam (கரணம்), 5. Nokku (நோக்கு), 6. Thodpavai Koothu (தோற்பாவைக் கூத்து) and 7. Vinotha koothu(விநோதக் கூத்து).

Vari koothu (வரிக்கூத்து) is performed by actors with songs (pieces of poems set into music) with occasional interludes. 1. Kurathi pattu (குறத்தி பாட்டு) and 2. Ulathi pattu (உழத்தி பாட்டு) are specific Tamil poetic compositions.  Vari-Santhi koothu (வரிசாந்திக் கூத்து) is the variation of Vari-koothu.

Vasai koothu (வசைக் கூத்து) deals with satire and Pukal koothu (புகழ்க் கூத்து) deals with eulogizing or praise formally and eloquently.

Ariya koothu (ஆரியக் கூத்து) stands for the narratives from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Tamil koothu (தமிழ்க் கூத்து) stands for Tamil folklore narratives like Sudalai Madan.

Desi koothu (தேசிக் கூத்து) include three variants; 1. Desi koothu (தேசிக் கூத்து), 2. Vadaku koothu and Singhalam koothu (சிங்களக் கூத்து)Desi koothu (தேசிக் கூத்து) involves the dance of Tamil country, Vadaku koothu (வடக்குக் கூத்து), is also known as Marka koothu (மார்க்கக் கூத்து), and is well known as the dance of the Telugu country, whilst Singhala was regarded as the dance of the Singhala country.

Venri koothu (வென்றிக் கூத்து) deals with the celebrations of victory over the enemy king.  Sakkai koothu (சாக்கைக் கூத்து), another ancient form of koothu comprise Pirapantha koothu (பிரபந்தக் கூத்து), Nankiyar koothu (நங்கியர் கூத்து), and Koodi Attam (கூடி ஆட்டம்). Sakkai Koothu and Koodi Attam are being performed in Kerala  Another category of eleven dances by deities called 'Diva Viruthy' was mentioned in Sillapapdikaram.

“Arangetrukaadai” or “the debut on-stage performance”

In the third chapter, “Arangetrukaadai” (அரங்கேற்று காதை) or “the debut on-stage performance”, Madhavi got ready for her maiden dance performance before the court of the Chola king Karikalan at Poompukar, the Chola capital. The chapter narrates in great details the debut performance and the entire text has extensive references to technical terms connected to dance and music. 

Danseuse Madhavi (மாதவி) was the daughter of Chitrapathy (சித்ரபதி) and she hailed from Kanigaiyar  (கணிகையர்) tradition (a Devadasi family). Arangetrukaadai traces how by the curse of sage Agathiya (அகத்தியர்), Urvasi (ஊர்வசி) (celestial dancer) and Jayanthan (ஜயந்தன்) (son of Lord Indra) were born as Madhavi (மாதவி), the dance heroine, and Thalaikol (தலைக்கோல் ) respectively. She is celebrated in the line of descent of Urvasi and is called Vanavamakal (divine woman). She learned dance from the age of five and mastered the classical dance at the age of twelve. Madhavi’s debut dance (arangetram)  took place at Poompukar, the capital of the Chola Kingdom, in the presence of the Chola King, the learned assembly and the citizens. After the rigorous full time training for seven years under the able guidance of the  dance master (ஆடல் ஆசான்) she was fit enough to exhibit her dance before the Chola king. 

பிறப்பிற் குன்றாப் பெருந்தோள் மடந்தை
தாதுஅவிழ் புரிகுழல் மாதவி தன்னை
ஆடலும் பாடலும் அழகும் என்றுஇக்
கூறிய மூன்றின் ஒன்றுகுறை படாமல்
ஏழாண்டு இயற்றிஓர் ஈராறு ஆண்டில் 10
சூழ்கடல் மன்னற்குக் காட்டல் வேண்டி  (Silappadikaram, Aragetru Kadhai (6-11)
Madhavi's dance master should know the nuances of the two 'koothus' i.e., Aka-koothu (Vettiyal koothu) and Pura-koothu (Pothuviyal koothu),  The master should harmonize various kinds of dance forms with proper songs. He must be proficient in the eleven modes of dance as well as music and percussion instruments as prescribed in the relevant prescript. The master should aware the appropriate occasion to apply the hand gestures such as 1. pindi (பிண்டி), 2. pinayal (பிணையல்), 3. ezhirkai (எழிற்கை) and 4. thozhirkai (தொழிற்கை).
                                                      ஆடலும் பாடலும் பாணியும் தூக்கும் 
கூடிய நெறியின கொளுத்துங் காலைப் 
பிண்டியும் பிணையலும் எழிற்கையும் தொழிற்கையும் 
கொண்ட வகைஅறிந்து கூத்துவரு காலைக் 
கூடை செய்தகை வாரத்துக் களைதலும்

வாரம் செய்தகை கூடையிற் களைதலும் 
பிண்டி செய்தகை ஆடலிற் களைதலும் 
ஆடல் செய்தகை பிண்டியிற் களைதலும் 
குரவையும் வரியும் விரவல செலுத்தி 
ஆடற்கு அமைந்த ஆசான்  (Silappadikaram, Aragetru Kadhai (16-25)

The music teacher (இசை ஆசிரியர்) of Madhavi should be skilled enough in playing on the yazh (lute) and flute in accordance with the rhythm and vocal music. He should also be skilled in playing low sounding tabor and in harmonizing the songs with the musical instruments. The music teacher should be knowledgeable in the pronunciation of the words of the languages. The composer of the song should be conversant in Tamil language and be familiar with the rules of grammar of the two categories of dance: Vettiyal and pothuviyal 

The percussion instrumentalist (drummer) (தண்ணுமை இசைக் கலைஞர்) should be proficient and knowledgeable in the dance forms, lyrical compositions, music, Tamil literature. He should play on the instrument in such a way to keep the tempo doubled with the rhythm kept intact. The drummer should play the instrument to perfectly to harmonize with the yazh (lute) and flute sounds as well as the vocalist's voice.  The flute player should be conversant with the prescribed rules of the flute-music. The flutist (குழல்  இசைக் கலைஞர்) should be proficient in the two kinds of manipulations i.e., chittiram and vanjanai by which the harsh sounds of the song are made pleasing to the ear.  The yazh player (யாழ்   இசைக் கலைஞர்) should be skilled in playing yazh with fourteen strings, arrange in the right order which could produce the palai scales. Silappadikaram mentions about four different kinds of yazhs (lute): 1. mulari yazh 2 sruthi veenai 3 Parijatha veenai 4 Chathurthandi veenai.

The site for the construction of the dance stage chosen in conformity with the authoritative rules and directions. They have employed the measuring rod measuring about twenty four thumb breadth long. The measuring rod was cut out of a tall bamboo with a span long between two joints. The stage was eight rods in length, seven rods in breadth and one rod in height. The plank placed above the pillars was four rods above the platform. The stage was provided with two appropriate doors. Above the stage were placed the pictures of the demons worthy of worship. The graceful lighting up the stage was so located that the shadow cast by the pillars did not darken the auditorium. The stage was fitted with single-side screen, a double-side screen, and a concealed, over-hanging screen. It had a finely-painted ceiling, and the garlands of pearls hung all over.
நூல்நெறி மரபின் அரங்கம் அளக்கும் 
கோல்அளவு இருபத்து நால்விரல் ஆக 100

எழுகோல் அகலத்து எண்கோல் நீளத்து 
ஒருகோல் உயரத்து உறுப்பினது ஆகி 
உத்தரப் பலகையொடு அரங்கின் பலகை 
வைத்த இடைநிலம் நாற்கோல் ஆக 
ஏற்ற வாயில் இரண்டுடன் பொலியத் 105

தோற்றிய அரங்கில் தொழுதனர் ஏத்தப் 
பூதரை எழுதி மேல்நிலை வைத்துத் 
தூண்நிழல் புறப்பட மாண்விளக்கு எடுத்துஆங்கு 
ஒருமுக எழினியும் பொருமுக எழினியும் 
கரந்துவரல் எழினியும் புரிந்துடன் வகுத்து
ஓவிய விதானத்து உரைபெறு நித்திலத்து 
மாலைத் தாமம் வளையுடன் நாற்றி 
விருந்துபடக் கிடந்த அருந்தொழில் அரங்கத்து
(Silappadikaram, Aragetru Kadhai (99-113)

Talaikkol, the sacred rod made of bamboo, would be wielded by the dance-master to regulate the dance. The shaft represents Jayanta, Indra’s son who according to legend, was cursed by Sage Agastya to be born as a bamboo stick. Talaikkol was invariably the shaft of the umbrella of the enemy king and was seized in war.
காவல் வெண்குடை மன்னவன் கோயில்
இந்திர சிறுவன் சயந்தன் ஆகென
வந்தனை செய்து வழிபடு தலைக்கோல் (Silappadikaram, Aragetru Kadhai(118-120)

Its joints were set with nine gems and the intervening spaces were covered with plates of pure gold. The poet provides finer details about the ceremony of Talaikkol. On an auspicious day the Talaikkol was washed with the sacred waters of Cauvery brought in golden pitcher and then garlanded and worshiped. Later it was placed in the trunk of the royal elephant adorned with gold plated bands. The drums and other musical instruments would be beaten to proclaim the kings victory. The king along with his live fold retinue and the royal elephant, circumambulated the chariot on which the poet was seated and handed over the talaikkol to him. Then they all went in a procession to the dance hall and placed the talakkol on the dance stage.

From that  time on the instrumentalists took their seats as per the laid down order, Madhavi ascended the stage, placing her right foot first and stood near the pillar to the right in confirmation with the norms. The elder dancers assembled by the side of the pillar on the left. The two conventional prayer songs were sung praying for maximizing the virtue and the cease of the vice. At the conclusion of the prayer all the instruments were sounded. The yazh (lute) harmonized with the flute; the tabor sounded in harmony with the yazh; the pot drum was in harmony with the tabor and the anantirikai harmonized with the pot-drum.

A 'mandilam' comprise two strokes and Madhavi danced eleven mandilams without deviating from dancing conventions and thus completed antarakkottu. She then danced the melodic improvisation of the auspicious palai tune without deviating its rigid measure. Demonstrating the four parts of the song, she commenced with three mandilams and concluded with one mandilam; in this way she danced the 'desi-dance' In the same manner she also danced the vaduhu dance, commencing with three mandilams and concluding with one mandilam. In her dance she conscientiously followed the prescription of the dance-scriptures. It looked as if a golden creeper full of flowers was dancing.

The king presented her with his leaf garland, conferring on her the title Talaikkoli in recognition of her skill. He also presented her one thousand and eight gold coins as her one day's fee, according to the prescribed convention. The dancer is now qualified to be called as a ‘professional dancer’ or ‘Natakaganikai’

  1. Ancient Indian And Indo-Greek Theatre by M.L. Varadpande. Abhinav Publications, 1981. 157 pages
  2. Ancient rock paintings discovered at Tirumayam Fort by M. Balaganessin. The Hindu November 23, 2013
  3. Dance: The Living spirit of Indian Arts. Exotic India.  April 2006
  4. How the Tamil epic extols music and dance. The Hindu March 02, 2001
  5. Ilango Adigal Silappadikaram. Translated by S.Krishnamoorthy. Bharathi Puthakalayam, 2011. 176 p.
  6. Isai Tamil inscription in ruins The Hindu March 22, 2012
  7. Jain Cave Temple at Sittanavasal. HereNow4U.30 July 2015
  8. Kannaki - Epitome of Chastity. Hub Pages. December 26, 2014
  9. Koothus in Silapathikaram. Daily News 31 December 2003 (
  10. Kudumiyanmalai – Inscriptions Tamilnadu Tourism. December 13, 2015
  11. Matavi’s 11 types of Classical Dance. Tamil and Vedas
  12. Natya, Nritya and Nritta. Nadanam.
  13. Project Madurai Silappadikaram Pukar Kandam (
  14. Quotations from Tamil Epic Silappadikaram ( murals throw light on life in old Pudukottai. Deccan Chronicle. Dec 23, 2016.  (
  15. Silapathikaram the great tamil epic in short (The Anklet and the Leaves of the Epic). Innland Theatre. February 24, 2011. (
  16. Tamilnadu's Contribution to Carnatic Music: A Bird's Eye-view by  Sundaram, BM (
  17. Thamizh Literature Through the Ages தமிழ் இலக்கியம் - தொன்று தொட்டு இன்று வரை by Krishnamurti, CR. (
  18. தமிழ் நாடக வரலாறு விக்கிப்பீடியா 
  19. தமிழர் நாடகக் கலை - விக்கிப்பீடியா
  20. வரலாற்றில் பரதநாட்டியம். இரா.நாகசாமி (
  21. நாடக இலக்கியம் (

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dance and Drama of Ancient Tamils: Part 1 Koothu, Chadir Attam and Bharatanatyam

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Carvings on Temple Wall PC Exotic India Art
Dance was the resplendent art form in ancient Tamil Country. Dancing played an indispensable role in the lives of the ancient Tamil Sangam society. In ancient times the dance was known as Koothu (கூத்து). Later the dancing transformed into “Chadir attam” (சதிர் ஆட்டம்) which means “court dance” and was danced in the temples of South India by the Devadasis (தேவதாசி). Bharatanatyam (பரதநாட்டியம்), the classical dance form of Tamil Nadu, derived from its older form i.e., Chadir attam. Bharatanatyam is primarily concerned with the grammar of Natyashastra (நாட்டியசாஸ்திரா), an ancient treatise on dance and drama compiled by sage Bharata Muni (பரத முனி). 

The corpus of literature written during Tamil Sangam period spanning from 300 BC to 300 AD was known as Sangam literature.  Poetry, music and dancing were popular among the people of the Sangam age. Scores of musical instruments are cited and scores of ornaments are also mentioned in the Sangam literature.

Dance in Rock Paintings

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Tirumayam Rock Paintings- PC Dr.N.Arul Murugan
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Tirumayam Rock Paintings 'MEYYURU PUNARCHI' - PC Dr.N.Arul Murugan
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Tirumayam Rock Paintings UNDATTU - PC Dr.N.Arul Murugan
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Female dancer with hand thrown up in glee, Pandya, 9th century CE) PC HereNow4U
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Female dancer with the head and hands preserved (wall painting, Pandya, 9th century CE)
PC HereNow4U
The oldest proof of existence of dancing comes from the 5000 year old rare rock murals that were discovered in Tirumayam fort, Tamil Nadu. Till recently nothing was known about the rock murals. However an exploration made by N. Arul Murugan, Chief Educational Officer, has exposed the hidden treasure. The rock murals, detected at three different sites atop the fort, appear to be the most ancient ones in Tamil Nadu. The paintings have been done on a rock surface. The rock murals could be older than the murals of Sithannavasal i.e., Pandyan era. 

One of the mural portray a man and a woman lying down in reclining posture.with their hands united. Some other mural art presents a dance program wherein a couple is engaged in playing percussion instruments and the row of men and women appear dancing on top. The history of art in ancient Tamil Nadu begins with prehistoric rock paintings.  Scholars assign the date of the ancient rock murals around 5000 BC This kind of dance was mentioned in Tolkappiyam, ancient Tamil grammar work, as ‘Undattu’ (a dance).

Koothu (கூத்து)
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PC Ravish Dass on Instagram
Koothu (Tamil: கூத்து) is the most ancient form of dance in Tamil land and is considered as the historical predecessor of the Bharatanatyam (பரதநாட்டியம்). Tolkappiyam (தொல்காப்பியம்by Tolkappiyar (தொல்காப்பியர்), a book on phonology, grammar and poetics,  assignable to the first century (pre-dates Bharata muni's Natyashastra, a grammar treatise on dance) provides information about the dance of ancient Tamils.  
"நாடக வழக்கினும் உலகியல் வழக்கினும் பாடல் சான்ற புலனெறி வழக்கம்"   (தொல்காப்பியம். பொருளதி.53)

It refers to several kinds of women dancers i.e., Viraliyar (விறலியர்) (ministrels), Koothiyar (கூத்தியர்) (dancing girls), Paratthaiyar (பரத்தையர்) (courtesans), Kannular (கண்ணுளர்) (santhi-koothu) as well as men dancers i.e., Koothar (கூத்தர்) (dancing men), Panar (பாணர்) minstrels), Porunar (பொருநர்) (war bards). Perumpanarruppadai cites about the dance stage:

"நாடக மகளிராடுகளத் தெடுத்த
வீசிவீங் கின்னியங் கடுப்ப" - (பெரும்பாணாற்றுப்படை) 

Pattinappalai also cites about drama:

"பாடலோர்ந்தும் நாடகம் நயந்தும்" - (பட்டினப்பாலை) 

Koothu is mentioned in Sangam poems like Kuruntokai (குறுந்தொகை) and Kalitogai (கலித்தொகை). Koothu was performed in honor of the young soldier who had fought valiant and returned victorious. A form of koothu was performed as a ritual to aggrieve the valiant death of the chief.

Koothu and Sangam Literature

Koothu was also performed for the Tamil god Murugan (முருகன்) and his tribal consort Valli (வள்ளி). This kind of koothu was performed with religious ecstasy. In ancient Sangam literature, the dance of Vettuvavari (வேட்டுவவரி) or Veriyattam (வெறியாட்டம்), a kind of koothu performed by women in a state of possession, has earned great reputation in connection with Murugan cult of Tamil Kurinji land. The koothu ritual accompanies the offering of food and drink (as well as animal sacrifice) before the Tamil god Murugan or Korravai (கொற்றவை). The dancers were priestess from Marava tribe.

Sangam poems such as Kuruntokai (குறுந்தொகை), Akananuru (அகநானூறு), Paripatal (பரிபாடல்) and Narrinai (நற்றிணை) as well as Tirumurukarruppadai (திருமுருகாற்றுப்படை) have explanations and references about Vettuvavari or Veriyattam. 

வெறியாட் டயர்ந்த காந்தளும்’’(தொல்.புறத்.நூற்பா, 63)

‘‘வேலன் புனைந்த வெறியயர் களந்தொறும்
செந்நெல் வான்பொரி சிதறி யன்ன’’( குறுந்., பா.எ.78)

வேலன் வெறி அயர்களத்து (அகம் : 114 : 2)

வேல னேத்தும் வெறியு முளவே (பரிபாடல் 15)

முருகு புணர்ந்து இயன்ற வள்ளி போல் - (நற்றிணை  பாடல 83)

Silappadikaram details ‘Kuravaikoothu,’ (குரவைக்கூத்து) (invokes the blessings of Lord Murugan by singing Kurinji-pann – ancient form of Tamil Raga), ‘Aaichiyar Kuravai’ (ஆய்சசியர் குரவை) (invokes the blessings of Lord Vishnu by singing Mullai-pann – ancient form of Tamil Raga) and ‘Kunrakuravai’ (குன்றக்குரவை) (in praise of Kannagi) have very rich information about ancient dance forms. Thunangai Koothu (துணங்கைக் கூத்து) was focused on the martial arts and war.

Ancient Tamil Music

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Ancient Musical Instruments PC 
Tolkappiyam speaks of music and musical instruments at numerous places. Purananuru (புறநானூறு) lists out the music instruments used by Sangam society i.e., percussion instruments Muzhavu (முழவு), Murasu (முரசு), Thannumai (தண்ணுமை),parai (பறை); stringed instruments like yazh (யாழ்) lute, Thoombu (தூம்பு), Ellari (எல்லரி), Akuli (ஆகுளி), Kulir (குளிர்) and wind instrument Conch (சங்கு). 

மண்முழா அமைமின் பண்யாழ் நிறுமின்
கண்விடு தூம்பின் களிற்றுஉயிர் தொடுமின்
எல்லரி தொடுமின் ஆகுளி தொடுமின்
பதலை ஒருகண் பையென இயக்குமின்” (புறம் 152 14-17)

Yazh was used as the primary instrument and accompanies with vocal music. Sangam poem Kalladam (கல்லாடம்) the 9th century poetical work by Kalladanar (கல்லாடனார்), refer various kinds of yazh (யாழ்) (lute): 1. Vil-yazh  (வில்யாழ்) bow shaped instrument with 21 strings; Peri-yazh (பேரியாழ்) with 21 strings; Makara-yazh (மகரயாழ்) Capricorn shaped. between 17 - 19 strings; Cakota-yazh (சகோடயாழ்) with 16 strings; Kichaka-yazh (கீசக யாழ்) with 14 strings; Cenkotti-yazh (செங்கோட்டியாழ்) with 7 strings; and Chiri-yazh (சீறியாழ்) with 7 strings. The instrument lost its popularity when the Veena instrument emerged. Pann (பண்) (pentatonic scales associated with the five Tamil landscapes which could be viewed on par with present day raga.. example: Kurinji pann, Maruda pann, Palai pann, Vilari pann etc.) and palai (பாலை) (parental scale (தாய்ப்பண்கள்) - associated with the Melakartha). Ancient Tamils have defined the seven notes as Kural (குரல்), Tuttam (துத்தம்), Kaikkilai (கைக்கிளை), Uzhai (உழை), Ili (இளி), Vilari (விளரி) and Taaram (தாரம்). 

'குரலே துத்தம் கைக்கிளை உழையே
இளியே விளரி தாரம் என்றிவை எழுவகை யிசைக்கும் எய்தும் பெயரே'

The string instrument Yazh was employed to define and categorize pann. Tolkappiyar employed the percussion instrument 'parai' (பறை) to define rhythm (தாளம்)..

Ancient Treatises on Tamil Music and Dance

Starting from Agattiyam (அகத்தியம்) and Tolkappiyam, many texts like Indra Kaleeyam (இந்திரகாளியம்) of Yamalendra, Isai Nunakkam (இசை நுணுக்கம்) of Sikhandi, Pancha Marabu (பஞ்சமரபு) of Arivanar, Bharata Senapatiyam (பரதசேனாபதியம்) of Adivayilar, Kootta Nool (கூத்தநூல்) of Sathanar and Muruval (முறுவல்), Sayandam (சயந்தம்), Guna Nool (குணநூல்), Seyirriyam (செயிற்றியம்) -- whose authors not known-- have defined the grammar of classical dance and music. Kootha Nool, compiled by Sathanar, is an ancient treatise on dramaturgy which has nine chapters devoting to two different subjects  ‘Suvai’ (சுவை ) and ‘Thogai.’ (தொகை). It focuses on tripartite arts of dance, music and drama. Scholars believe that this work formed the basis for Bharata’s Natyashastra. Pancha Marabu, a treatise on musical theory belonged to the third Sangam period. It lists out nine different divisions of Tamil music and deals with musical instruments including percussion instruments (Muzhavu). It also provides notes on hand gestures, abinayam, koothu, natyam etc., and prescribes the Jati syllables. Adiyarkku Nallar (அடியார்க்கு நல்லார்) in his commentary on Silappadikaram cites about Kootha Nool and Pancha Marapu.

Bharatanatyam: Natyashastra of sage Bharatha Muni and Other Treatises

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Bharatanatyam Darasuram. PC Ipseand ~ Welcome to My Playground!
‘Natyashastra’ (நாட்டியசாஸ்த்திரா) by the sage Bharatha Muni (பரதமுனி) sets the grammar for dance. Therefore it was being aptly termed as Bharatanatyam during 1940s. Earlier it was known as Chatir-attam. The date of Natyashastra and Bharatanatyam is not yet resolved. However scholars assign the date of Bharata Muni to Sangam period. Abhinav Bharati (10th century AD) of Abhinavgupta, commentary on Natya Shastra also known as Natya-Vedam, clearly brings out the basic concepts of the Natyashastra. Sangita Ratnakara (13th century AD) of Sharangadeva focuses on the Natyashastra traditions including its desi variations. Nandikeshvara’s Abhinaya Dharpanam is an all-inclusive work universally adopted by most contemporary dancers and dance-masters.

According to the Sangita Ratnakara, the Abhinaya Darpanam and other medieval treatises, the dance is divided into three distinct categories, i.e.,  Nrittam (pure dance), Nrityam (solo expressive dance) and Natyam (group dramatic dance).

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108 Dance Postures.  Chidambaram Temple PC Ipseand ~ Welcome to My Playground!
Nrittam corresponds to pure dance steps performed rhythmically. It is the illustration of rhythm through graceful body movements. Here the movements of the body do not convey any mood or meaning and its purpose is the acute synchronization between rhythm and time, with dance movements. Nrityam corresponds to the mime performed to the poetic song. The dancer justifies the meaning of the song, through various bodily movements such as, facial expressions, hand and legs movements and abstract dance or Nrittam. Shuddha Nrittam was called Chokkam (சொக்கம்) in Tamil and all the 108 Karanas (கரணங்கள்) were performed in it. Chadir was the solo dance form performed for centuries by Devadasis in temples. Natyam corresponds to drama. Natyam means dramatic representation or drama with Speech, Music, Nrittam and Nrityam. Nrittam was given great importance in Tamil Natya. Kuravanji was the group dance by women, interpreting literary or poetic compositions typically on the theme of fulfillment of the love of a girl for her beloved. Bhagavata Melam was the group form of dance drama from Tamil Nadu, with all roles performed by men, and themes based on mythology.

Inscriptions on Temple Dance Tradition 

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  1. Chola Fresco of dancing girls. Brihadisvara Temple
Few inscriptions exist in evidence to show that dance played an important part jn the life of ancient Tamils. The ancient Isai Tamil inscription dating back to the second century BC was discovered in a cave on the western end of the hillock in Arachalur, Erode district. It is in Tamil Brahmi script. The inscriptions is related to Tala notes (Adavu) meant for a Bharatanatyam dancer. The tala notes is composed with five lines and as many rows, resembling a five-row - five-column matrix. The tala matrix has been arranged to enable the reader to read either from left to right or top to bottom it reads the same. It is a palindrome as well. 

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Arachalur Tamil Brahmi Inscription Tala Notes (Adavu) - Bharatanatyam
Kudumiyanmalai music inscription is in Pallava Grantha script and the script resembles more or less with that of Pallava king Mahendra-varman (மகேந்திரவர்மன்). It is considered as important in the history of Indian music. This inscription is now extant between Bharata Muni's Natyashastra and Sarangadeva's Sangita Ratnakara. Yet another Pallava Grantha inscription in Kudumiyanmalai cave temple read as ‘Parivadinidaa’ (பரிவாதினிதா). Parivadini is by and large regarded as a seven stringed yazh instrument like harp type Vina (வீணை). The phrase ‘Parivadinidaa’ also forms part in few other rock cut cave inscriptions such as Tirumayam (திருமயம்) and Malaiyakkoil (மலையக்கோயில்).- both the rock cut caves are located - in Pudukkottai district.

The inscription of Rajaraja Chola I dated 1004 AD on the outside of the north enclosure of Brihadisvara temple, Thanjavur (S.I.I Vol.2, Part 3 No. 65, 66) records the magnitude of Devadasi system. The inscription also makes reference about 400 dancing girls .imported from various Shiva and some Vaishnava temples in Chola territory and settled in the neighborhood of the Brihadisvara temple. The inscription also informs about the host of temple staff including dance-masters, musicians, drummers, singers etc., Brihadisvara temple, Thanjavur also hosts a circular platform known as 'Kuravanji Medai' for dancers to perform. The Devadasi dancers have performed the Rajaraja Natakam, depicting the history of temple construction.

Few medieval inscriptions cite to the tradition of staging koothus in temple dancing halls.  An inscription of Rajendra Chola (ARE 1914 No. 65) records the gift of land by the general assembly of Kamaravalli Chaturvedimangalam (காமரவல்லி சதுர்வேதிமங்கலம்) to Sakkai Marayan of Vikramasolan for performing Sakkai Koothu (சாக்கைக் கூத்து) thrice on each of the festivals Margali Tiruvadirai (மார்கழி திருவாதிரை) and Vaikasi Tiruvadirai (வைகாசி திருவாதிரை). Yet another inscription (ARE 1914 No. 254) registers the grants made to a shrine of Sadiruvidanga nayakar (சதிருவிடங்க நாயகர்) set up by Kulottungasola Kidarattaraiyan for performing Sandi-koothu (சந்திக் கூத்து) during the Tiruvadirai festival that falls in the month of Vaikasi. Another inscription (ARE 1921 No.42) in Kanchipuram registers about the performance of koothu by the troupe artists at Kanchipuram and other places.  The koothu tradition flourished under the patronage of temple institution since the time of Silappadikaram. 

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Dancing girls and musicians from Madras, a drawing by Christopher Green, c.1800
Later dance in the temple as a ritual was performed by the specially trained ‘Devadasis’ or the “Servants of god.’ Devadasis were young girls who were dedicated to the temple and were married to the god in a ritual. Devadasis attached to Shiva temple were known as 'Rishabathaliyalar' and those attached to Vishnu temple were named as 'Sri Vaishnava-manickam'. They were not allowed a regular family life but were highly trained in dance and music. Temple gave them housing, land and regular income.

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  2. Ancient rock paintings discovered at Tirumayam Fort by M. Balaganessin. The Hindu November 23, 2013
  3. Dance: The Living spirit of Indian Arts. Exotic India.  April 2006
  4. How the Tamil epic extols music and dance. The Hindu March 02, 2001
  5. Ilango Adigal Silappadikaram. Translated by S.Krishnamoorthy. Bharathi Puthakalayam, 2011. 176 p.
  6. Isai Tamil inscription in ruins The Hindu March 22, 2012
  7. Jain Cave Temple at Sittanavasal. HereNow4U.30 July 2015
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  14. Silapathikaram the great tamil epic in short (The Anklet and the Leaves of the Epic). Innland Theatre. February 24, 2011. (
  15. Tamilnadu's Contribution to Carnatic Music: A Bird's Eye-view by  Sundaram, BM (
  16. Thamizh Literature Through the Ages தமிழ் இலக்கியம் - தொன்று தொட்டு இன்று வரை by Krishnamurti, CR. (
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