A historic order on Terukkuttu in ancient villages
There is an interesting inscription on the back wall of the sanctum of Ulakalanta perumal temple at Kanchipuram that gives an insight into the state of dance dramas in Tamil nadu in the beginning of 14th cent.
The Telugu Choḻas, were ruling Kanchipuram as subordinates of the Imperial Cholas in the 13th cent, after whom the Sambhuvarāyar chiefs held the reign of Kānchi for some time. In the reign of the Sambhuvarāyar, the ruling king passed an interesting order which declared that as was the practice in Choḻamaṇḍaḷam, the Sālas or feeding houses in Kānchipuram and Tondaimaṇḍaḷam could stage dramas and dance in all their villages where the variyilārs lived and they were exempted from paying taxes, The order was to be inscribed on stones in all their villages. Kānchipuram is mentioned as Nagaram in Eyir-koṭṭam in Jayamkoṇḍa-choḻa-maṇḍaḷam. The order was issued in the 17th year of the king Sambhuvarāyar. Obviously the order was issued to the Variyilārs of the Sālais, Feeding houses. It means that the amount paid to the king as tax need not be paid to the royal treasury, but should be paid to the sālais for feeding purposes. It also points out that such a procedure was prevalent among the feeding houses of Choḻa-maṇḍaḷam. The sālais were free to arrange for Nāṭakas and Kūttus during festivals and witness the same, utilizing the amount set apart for them. It is thus an interesting order for royal encouragement of dance and drama at village level in the beginning of 14th cent. That is the reason why the order included permission to have it inscribed in all the villages where there was a sālai. The king in whose time the order was issued is identified with Venrumankoṇḍa Sambhuvarāyar, though the title is not found in the record. But the astronomical details furnished in the record show that the order was issued on 18th Feb 1339 which falls under his rule.
It should be noted that there were a good number of Terukkuttu dancers in places like Purisai in Cheyyar taluk, Chinglepet district till recent times and also in some other places like Jambai. During our Epigraphical survey we noticed some villages had Teukkuttu compositions written by the local Tamil scholars which were enacted. Similarly in the chola mandalam as at Niyamamm, Andankoyil etc there were Terukkuttu dancers enacting Dance dramas. Even now we have some troupes in some villages that perform either Mahabharata or other stories, for which they use highly classical Tamil works which to us seems the relics of this tradition of acting during village festivals in rural areas. The royal encouragement by remitting taxes has sustained this art to this day. One of the most popular dramas that is enacted is the Mahabharata for 18 days in Renuka paramesvari temple festival . The actors were making use of Villiputturar Bharatam for this purpose. Evidently the both in Chola country and the northern Tondai mandalam this practice continues. Two years back in 2007 I happen to see a very good Terukkoottu performance in Chennai enacted in a highly sophiscated theatre enacted by troupe from Cuddalore. I was so happy to this art surviving still in chaste form. The dialogue, costumes and improvisations recalled to me the Famous Purisai Kannappa Tambiran troup I saw about 30 years back. We must appreciate the Governments endeavour to revive such arts in rural areas at huge cost but I found a little careful identification and proper forum the art would survive. But I found there was something lacking in the modern drive as I happened to witness a folk festival at the beach taking a curiorious turn. Perhhaps this order of the Sambhuvaraiyar king could show the way for a responsive development. to a great extend of the survival of what is today called Folk dance dramas. Once I happened to meet the famous cine actor shivaji Ganesan and during our conversation I praised him for his action. He surprised me with a statement tha I owe all my action to my Terukkoothu performances in my younger days. Could there be any better tribute to this art than that? Those who have seen a film by him, in which he acts as Terukkuttu performer, would recall how beautifully he brings out the truth of his statement .