[Culture Special]Kerala Kutiyattam and Chinese Opera

  • [2018-04-16]

    The dance and drama that evolved through the ages and ages of human mankind. There are three oldest dramatic forms of the world namely, Indian Sanskrit Opera, Chinese Opera and Greece-tragic comedy still exists with greatest credentials which also holds UNESCO recognition. Kutiyattam is performed in the temples, a popular dance-drama from the State of Kerala located in South-western Indian Peninsular. Chinese Opera (戲曲) on the other side is a famous art form of the world that represents the traditional values of Chinese Culture. Kutiyattam and Chinese Opera are identical art forms of the world.
    Kutiyattam
    The Indian Sanskrit Opera Kutiyattam/Koodiyatam (കൂടിയാട്ടം) portrays the ancient epics of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavathi Purana and other regional ethical stories that have been performed in Koothambalams (Drama Stage) of the temples. The main features of Kutiyattam is its face mask, music, performer with unique hand gestures, eye movements and dance with traditional dramatic dressing styles. The dance style of Kutiyattam was seen in the temple architectures of Kerala which dates back to 2nd century BC. References of Kutiyattam is also seen in the Sangam (3rd Century BC) literature of ancient Tamilakam (தமிழகம்) (modern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala) which is ruled by Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava holds the recorded evidence for the evolution of Kutiyattam. Evidently, during the period of Chera King Kulasekhara Varman (குலசேகர வர்மன்) has reformed the dramatic art form through the language and literature to evolve as a well-defined dramatic form. Kutiyattam was influenced by Sanskrit tradition as well as the Dravidian culture of South India. Further, the styles of Kutiyattam has also emerged into a theatrical form in the 17th century which is called as Kathakali. Thus, Kutiyattam is the only Indian Sanskrit Opera that survived till now beyond the evolution of advanced theaters.
    CHINESE OPERA
    The traditional Chinese Opera called 戲曲 (Xìqǔ). The art form comprises of singing, acting, martial arts, acrobatics, literature and dialogue. In 13th century during Song dynasty the Chinese Opera attained its maturity in all forms. The history of Chinese Opera can be traced back from Song dynasty to Qing dynasty. Canjun Opera the comic drama of Zhao Dynasty (朝代) involves two performers. In Qi dynasty (齐朝)has reportedly has a masked dance called “Big face” was introduced. During Tang dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong (唐玄宗) founded “Pearl Garden” which is said to be the first opera with organized music, dancers and actors. Further, during Song dynasty, Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, Opera evolved and attained Kunqu form which is a mother of thirty forms of opera. Among 360 different forms of Chinese Opera, Beijing Opera (京剧), Kunju Opera (昆曲)and Yueju Opera (越剧) were recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. Notably, from 1912 till present it is recorded that the Opera has remained the same with addition of modern advanced stage effects. Chinese Opera is visibly catching up the equilibrium of theatrical concepts of the contemporary world.
    SIMILARITIES
    The two UNESCO certified cultural heritage has evolved through times. here are unique similarities that exist between aforementioned art forms. During the maritime trade relation between Kollam in the State of Kerala (India) and Tang dynasty of China the possible cultural exchanges that would have shaped the understanding of Opera and established the Pearl Garden. The similarities of these two different opera forms of distant location are seen in all the descriptions of the dance, music, reciting and performances. The loud reciting, creating the next generation dramatists and the passing of traditional opera belongings are unique and identical to the practice of both opera. Imagining the history of these two opera we could understand the values that have been transferred through ages which helped the art to preserve itself in the contemporary digital world.
    Conclusion
    The significant similarity of Chinese Opera and Kutiyattam is that both have passed the time test and emerged as a modern form of art. The artists of the Opera and Kutiyattam preserves the cultural heritage of the region. Divided by distance yet the evolution of both the dramatic art was almost same of its kind. The cultural importance of the region and the ethical preaching was done through these dramas. Whoever, watch these golden operas of India and China will surely wonder the efforts taken by the artist of both art forms. Their dedication needs a grant salute and support from both Government of India and People’s Republic of China to preserve it for centuries.
    (Vithiyapathy Purushothaman (李拯) is a PhD scholar at School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), Hefei, China.)
    Read More: https://www.c3sindia.org/culture-history/kerala-kutiyattam-and-chinese-opera-by-vithiyapathy-purushothaman/

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