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Mudiyettu, Ritual Theatre and Dance Drama of Kerala

  • Mudiyettu, Ritual Theatre and Dance Drama of Kerala
  • Mudiyettu, Ritual Theatre and Dance Drama of Kerala
  • Mudiyettu, Ritual Theatre and Dance Drama of Kerala

Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Mudiyettu is a ritual dance drama from Kerala based on the mythological tale of a battle between the goddess Kali and the demon Darika. It is a community ritual in which the entire village participates. After the summer crops have been harvested, the villagers reach the temple in the early morning on an appointed day. Mudiyettu performers purify themselves through fasting and prayer, then draw a huge image of goddess Kali, called as kalam, on the temple floor with coloured powders, wherein the spirit of the goddess is invoked. This prepares the ground for the lively enactment to follow, in which the divine sage Narada importunes Shiva to contain the demon Darika, who is immune to defeat by mortals. Shiva instead commands that Darika will die at the hand of the goddess Kali. Mudiyettu is performed annually in ‘Bhagavati Kavus’, the temples of the goddess, in different villages along the rivers Chalakkudy Puzha, Periyar and Moovattupuzha. Mutual cooperation and collective participation of each caste in the ritual instils and strengthens common identity and mutual bonding in the community. Responsibility for its transmission lies with the elders and senior performers, who engage the younger generation as apprentices during the course of the performance. Mudiyettu serves as an important cultural site for transmission of traditional values, ethics, moral codes and aesthetic norms of the community to the next generation, thereby ensuring its continuity and relevance in present times.

Kerala is known for its contribution in the field of intangible cultural heritage. It is one of the few states that continues to preserve the ancient sanskrit theatre art forms of Kutiyattam and Kathakali.

Mudiyettu, an ancient ritual dance drama of Kerala derives its name from two Malayalam words, Mudi (hair) and Ettu (wear). It was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in the year 2010 and is the second art form from the state to be inscribed in this list.

Mudiyettu is performed in the Bhagavathi Kavu (Devi Temples) of Ernakulam, Idukki, Thrissur and Kottayam districts of Kerala. Villages with Bhagavathi Kavu perform the rituals associated with Mudiyettu in order to please the deity and rejuvenate the community. All members of the community participate in large numbers.

There are a series of rituals prior to the performance that set the stage for the fierce dance drama to begin. The rituals begin with the Kalamezhuthu or the pictorial depiction of Goddess Kali on the floor, made using colours. Kalam is primarily a composition of five colours, black, red, white, yellow and green. Made inside the temple compound, the Kalamezhuthu is followed by songs called Kalam Pattu sung in praise of the Goddess. Kalam Pattu is accompanied by percussion instruments prevalent in Kerala such as chenda (drums), idakka,  pampu (pipes) and ithalam. After the prayers, the Kalam is rubbed off using tender coconut leaves. This is followed by the Vilakku Vaipu (lighting of the lamp) in the performance area and the kelikottu (beating of the drums) as an indication that the performance is about to begin.

Unlike other art forms, Mudiyettu is based solely on the renowned mythological tale of the battle between Goddess Bhadrakali or Kali and Darika, the demon King. The performance commences with sage Narada pleading to Lord Shiva to restore peace as Darika had conquered the world. Protected by the boon, given to him by Brahma,  that no man or God in the world could defeat him, his cruelty had become unbearable. Lord Shiva on hearing this, declared that Goddess Kali, a woman, would be the one defeating him. The performance concludes with the enactment of the fierce battle between Kali and Darika. Other characters in the performance are Dhanavendran, Koyimbadan and Kooli. While Koyimbadan acts as the narrator of the story, Dhanavendran supports Darika in the fight against Kali. Kooli is a comical character introduced amidst this mythological tale in order to engage with the audience through dialogue and actions.

Kali’s character wears a heavy headgear with the face of Goddess Kali in the centre. At the back of the headgear, are long  tender coconut leaves suspended from the crown symbolic of Goddess Kali’s long hair (mudi). The (chutti kuthu) makeup done for Kali’s character is different from the rest of the characters. The base is black, made using oil lamp soot and across the face are white spots, a paste made of rice powder.

Mudiyettu’s presence in Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List has given the art form the opportunity to revive itself. Today, it is performed not only in the Devi Temples of Kerala but across states as a staged performance. Despite this, it continues to be an art form that needs recognition among the youth for the future generations to be able to witness this masterpiece.