CAKKIYAR KUTTU IN ANCIENT TAMILNAD
An inscription on the west wall of the sanctum (garbha-grha) of the Gomuktesvara temple, Thiruvavaduturai, Mayuram Taluk is of great interest to students South Indian Dance dramas. The inscription is dated in the 9th regnal year of the Chola emperor, Bajaraja T, corresponding to 5th October, 995 A.D. The village assembly of Sattanur, in Tenkarai Tiraimurnadu, met in the Catus salai ambalam and created a endowment (nibandha) as “Dancer’s enjoyment” (Nritta-bhoga) land for performing a dance drama. The endowment was made in favour of one Kumaram Srikantan, a Cakkaiyar, who was in enjoyment of Cakai kani, the land of the village. carmarked for Cakkai. This was intended for enacting an Aryak kuttu in seven acts (elu ankam) in the Purattadi (nakshtra) star festival, in the month of Purattasi, celebrated for the Lord of Thiruvavaduturai. The dance was to be enacted annually in perpetuity. Two pieces of land were earmarked for this purpose, one consisted of 12 ma of land, which was a Cakkai veli at Vadugamangudi. This land was already under enjoyment, as service tenure for performing dance in the month of Purattasi. The second piece of land, measuring 15 ma, was situated in Naruppai village. Both the land, put together, measuring one Veli and seven ma, were made Nritta-bhoga. The dancers were free to raise two crops of their choice and enjoy the proceeds and in turn, enact dance drama in the festival. The land was not saleable.
The record says that on the first day of the sprouting ceremony in the Purattasi festival, the nataka should be announced during the night and the seven acts performed. The relevant portion reads Purattssi thirunalil thirumulai-nanru ira (natts) Natakam Colli Varavittu elu angam aduvatakavum. Colli Varavidel i.e. announcement equal unto Purvaranga of the Natya sastra. It is not clear from the epigraph, whether the Nataka in seven acts should be enacted on the same day or performed for a number of day still the festival lasted.
The next part of the inscription is equally interesting, as it refers to the provisions made for the dance drama. It prescribes two measures of rice per day for making rice powder, three betel nets- two bundles of betel leaves and one uri of oil for preparing collyrium (black pigments) and one nali of turmeric Those who were in charge administering the festival on the respective day, should measure these materials in the stipulated quantity to the temple treasury. Rice powder (white), turmeric (yellow), black pigments, betel nuts (brown) and betel leaves (green) were obviously used for colorings the face and body suited to the character. It is interesting to note the ingredients used for colours one thousand years ago whichis perhaps the earliest authentic record for such a usage.
The village assembly made this as a tax free land and instituted this nibandha as Nrittea bhoga to the Lord is perpetuity and gifted it to Cakkiyar, Kumaran Srikantan. The endowment was made by the Village Assembly, (Mahasabha) of Satanur. While refering to the Nataka, the deed interestingly calls it Aryak-kuttu clu ankam i.e. the seven acts of Aryak-kuttu, from which it is clear that the Cakkiyars were enacting Aryak-kuttu in temples of Tamilnad and that they formed part of village establishment seen by the term nammur cakkai kani udaiva i.e. one who enjoys the Cakkai Kani of our village.
The inscription makes it clear that what was intended to be enacted in the festival was a Nataka in seven act. Natakam Colli Varavittu clu sangam ada. However the endowment is called Nritta bhogam obviously the term Nritta here is employed in a general sense of dance-drama. That natya and nritta are used as synonums here and denote actions with dialogues and dances as is prevelant in today’s Katha kali of Kerala.
That the dance drama is called Aryak-kuttu also deserve notice. The Aryar were prforming dance in the Tamil country even from the sangam age, the beginning of the Current era. A verse in Kurunthokai refers to the Vigorous best of the Parai drum, when the Aryas danced on the rope fastened to a pole. This refers to the male members dancing on rope. The sangam works like Narrinai (95), Ahananuru (378) and Kurinji Pattu refers to dancing girls adu-makal dancing to the accompaniment of musical instruments on ropes fastened to poles.
The Tamil epic Silappadikaram, refers to two kinds of dance, Iruvahai kuttu, Aryak-kuttu and Tamil-kuttu. Aryak-kuttu, here indicate taking up a mythical story, abridging it (cedam) to suit enacting the dance drama. It is evident that Aryak-kuttu, does not necessarily mean, only the acrobatic dance like rope dance, but also included refined dance, based on Sanskrit language and lore. The inscription of Rajaraja under discussion states clearly that the Nataka, in seven acts performed in the temple of Thiruvaduturai was called Aryakkuttu.
The other point of interest in this record is that this dance drama was enacted by a Cakkaivar. A family of dancers in Kerzla who enact Kudiyattam, in temples are called today Cakkivars. Their dance is called Cakkiyar Kuttu. They enact Sanskrit dramas mainly making profuse use of Malayalam language. Many of the famous Sanskrit dramas of ancient India, like those of Bhasa, Mahendravarman and others were enacted by them and a number of them are being enacted to this day. For example the Mattavilasa Prahasana of Mahendra is enacted in temples as offerings on festival occassions even to this day. The Cakkiyar tradition in Kerala traced to remote antiquity by historians is considered a special form of Kerala art. The dance drama enacted in the Thiruvavaduturai temple in the time of Rajaraja, was also an Aryak-kuttu, performed by a Cakkiyar. In all probability this dance drama was in Sanskrit with Tamil interwoven.
It may be mentioned that several dancers were employed by Rajaraja Chola, to perform dance and also dramas in the great temple of Tanjore, when he built it. Among them were included four players of Nataka – one was a Cakkiyar – named Thiruvellarai cakkai alias Maraikkadu Ganapathi. His name indicates that he hailed from Maraikkadu, the modern Vedaranyam in Tanjore district.
That sanskrit dramas were enacted in other temples of Tamilnadu, during the Chola period, is attested by two inscriptions, dated in the reign of Rajendra chola I. Both the inscriptions come from the Sivalokanatha temple, Kiranur, Nannilam Taluk, Tanjore district. The first one (1022 A.D.) records a gift of land to Marudur Cakkai alias Parsmesvaran Sri Kannan, for enacting dramas during festivals. He received seventy kalams of paddy annually at the rate of ten kalams per day of performance. Obviously his dance drama lasted for seven days.
The other record refers to the enactment of a Cakkai kuttu in five acts. This was also enacted during festivals. This provision was made by Kalyana Mahadevi, the queen of Rajendra Chola I, probably in the 21st year of his reign (1033 a.d.). The mention of the dance drama as Cakkai kuttu, and the name of dancer as Marudur Cakkai, deserve special attention. From the inscription of Rajaraja I discussed earlier, it is seen that the dance drama enacted by Cakkaiyar was called Aryak-kuttu. This indicates that Sanskrit dramas enacted in the temples of Tamilnadu were called Aryak-kuttu or Cakkaik-kuttu and that they were enacted by Cakkaiyar dancers. The Cakkiyar Kuttu now considered an enclusive Kerala form of dance (from which the Katha Kali is derived) was prevelant in Tamilnad, from the Sangam age to the mediaeval times.