Kerala’s ritual dance-drama gets UNESCO recognition

UNESCO has recognised Mudiyeettu, an age old ritual-drama of Kerala as an "intangible cultural heritage of humanity".

Thiruvananthapuram: Considering its outstanding
value and vulnerability, UNESCO has recognised Mudiyeettu,
an age old ritual-drama of Kerala as an "intangible cultural
heritage of humanity".

This dance-drama tradition that form part of the Goddess
Kali cult is the second Kerala art form being included in the
UN list for preservation as human cultural heritage after the
classical theatre Kudiyaattam which was accorded the
coveted status a few years ago.

Mudiyeettu is a ritualistic art evolved as part of the
Bhadra Kali(Goddess Durga) cult performed in some of the
temples in Kerala, whose origin could be traced to as back as
9th or 10th century AD.

With seven characters and seven elaborate scenes, it is
enacted annually in an open space adjacent to Bhadra Kali
temples after the harvest season, seeking the devine blessings
of the Goddess for the well-being of the village community.

Based on the mythical story of battle between Kali and
Darika the demon, the play is performed by artists in heavy
costumes in the background of Kalamezhuthu, tantric drawings
using organic dyes on the floor amid beating of drums.

The ritual dance-drama begins with the discourse of Lord
Shiva and Narada,and it progresses through the entry of Darika
and Kali followed by their grim battle concluding with the
slaying of the demon by the Goddess Like the famed Ram Leela
of north India, the play drives home the message of the
ultimate triumph of the good over the evil.

Mudiyeettu is more of an offering than an art form for
its performers, says Keezhillam Unnikrishnan, the best known
contemporary exponent of the tradition and a member of one of
the four traditional performing families of the art form.

"Unlike classical theatres Kathakali or Koodiyattam,
Mudiyeetu is considered a sacred offering to Goddess Kali
rather than a medium of pure entertainment. It derived the
name Mudiyettu from the tall and glittering headgear worn by
the artist who appears as Kali," Unnikrishnan told PTI.

Now there are only nine performing troupes and four
traditional families in Kerala who regularly enact the play.

The UNESCO recognition is based on the performance and history
of these families residing at places like Koratty, Keezhillam,
Pazhaoor and Kunnakal in the state, Unnikrishnan said.

As a ritualistic art, Mudiyeettu demands greater
preparations and self-discipline on the part of the artist
than any other art form, he said.

The actors have to follow strict `vrata` or a period of
renunciation of all worldly pleasures several days before the
staging. A total of 32 pieces of specially washed clothes are
worn by them. Even if the performance is not inside a temple,
only organic colours are used for Kalamezhuttu or drawings on
the floor depicting various episodes from the Goddess myth.

"These all are connected with the spiritual undercurrent
of the art form," he said.

According to classical and folk art scholars, what makes
Mudiyettu unique is its fusion of pan-Hindu mythology with
purely local folk beliefs and rituals.

Along with Kali, Darika, Lord Shiva and sage Narada,
characters with a local flavour like Koimbata Nair and Kooli
appear in the play.

When the drama scales to its tempo to the accompaniment
of percussion instruments like chenda (drum), elathalam
(cymbal) and chanting of verses, the entire atmosphere gets
electrified and even the thrilled audience begins to
participate in the `war` in the concluding scenes, artists

Now a waning art with younger generation showing hardly
any interest, the UNESCO recognition is expected to give
Mudiyettu a revival, opening opportunities for more research
into its history and evolution, Unnikrishnan said.

"International recognition will surely give a boost to
the age-old art and contribute to its promotion. A traditional
artist like me believes it is due to the blessings of the
Goddess that it has received a status of world heritage", he

"It will give us strength to hand over the torch of the
legacy to the next generations."

Besides Mudiyeettu, the Chhau dance of Eastern India and
Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan have also been
included in the latest Representative List of the Intangible
Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


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