Dance in storytelling form | Daily News

Dance in storytelling form

The term ‘Koothu’ was generally used in Tamil to refer to the dance form. That’s why the dancing deity Lord Nataraja is often referred to by numerous names such as Koothapiran, Koothuandavan and Kootharasan. The ancient Sanskrit stage was often referred to as Koothuambalam. The ancient Tamil classic Silappadikaram was written by the royal ascetic Illangoadikal in the second century A.D. It mentions numerous Koothu forms that existed at that time. Adiyarkunalar, the commentator on Silappadikaram, wrote the first commentary on Silappadikaram after the 13th century of its appearance.

Ancient Tamil literary work ‘Koothanool’ mentions that dance originated in performing in drama and drama originated in dance. In ancient times there was no proper separation between the dance and drama. Initially, dance and drama were considered one and the same art form. But with the passage of time both these art forms were gradually separated from one another.

Regional practices

And later they maintained their own identity and originality. Today the Tamil word Koothu means folk dance. It is generally referred to as Koothu Kalai. Koothu forms are influenced by local culture, tradition and regional practices. Further, these Koothuforms are known as Naatu Koothu. The Tamil word Naatu means ‘village’ or country.

At a regional level, the Sri Lankan Tamil indigenous dances were divided into three different divisions. One is eastern indigenous dance forms. The other is northern regional indigenous Koothu dances including the Mannar district, Vanni district and Jaffna district. And other regional Tamil folk dances are based on upcountry Tamil indigenous dances.

Thennmodi Koothu and Vadamoodi Koothu forms are quite popular in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka. the Tamil indigenous dances are practised, preserved and protected in the Tamil dominated areas of Sri Lanka. Earlier the Koothuforms are well protected and preserved by Annaviyars who were the males practising Koothus.

Koothu forms

The approach of practising of Thennmodi Koothu is quite different from Vadamodi Koothu. Both the Koothu forms are different from one another especially on the basis of Thala Kattu (rhythm and tempo). The Batticaloa district in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka is famous for traditional Koothus.

Batticaloa Koothu forms are more or less accompanied by two main instruments such as drums and thalam. Meanwhile, Thennmodi Koothu practised in Jaffna is always accompanied by more than two instruments. It was practised with a certain selective orchestra.

Professor S. Maunaguru’s contribution is immeasurable to preserve the traditional local Tamil dance forms in eastern Sri Lanka. He took tremendous efforts to revive them. To create public awareness among the people, he himself performed onstage. His untiring efforts even after the thirty years of civil war to protect and preserve these traditional indigenous Koothu forms of eastern Sri Lanka are commendable. Because of him, the Tamil world has got an opportunity to see these valuable indigenous art forms once again in eastern Sri Lanka. Presently it is noticeable that all the ancient Koothu are intermingled with dance and drama to a certain extent.

Different castes

The northern Sri Lankan indigenous Koothu forms survived due to the efforts of the late Professor Vithyananthan. In northern Sri Lanka, most of the Koothu forms were related to different castes. Some of the Koothus are still persevered by the Hindu and Christian communities.

According to previous records Vadamodi Koothu, Thennmodi Koothu, Thennpaangu Koothu, Vadapaangu Koothu, Vassapu Koothu, Kathathavarayan Koothu, Kovalan Koothu, Nondi Koothu, Vilasam Koothu and Pallu Nadakam were some of the remarkable Koothu forms that prevailed in northern Sri Lanka. At present a very few varieties of Koothu exist. So far, a handful of scholars have done a considerable amount of research on Sri Lankan Tamil folklore. Earlier many Koothu forms existed, but recently due to the arrival of numerous modern technical and electronic mass media all the traditional art forms have gradually lost their importance. Today many of the Sri Lankan Tamil Koothu forms are only known by their names.

Some ancient indigenous dance forms performed in Sri, not at all practised in the present era. For instance, certain folk dances such as Nondi Nadakam, Pallu Nadakam and Thinnai Koothu were practised by the earlier generation of northern SriLanka. But these are not at all practised by the present generation. In other words, it could be said that the above Koothu forms are not at all in use.

Some folk literature indicates that the Vadamodi and Thennmodi Koothu forms reached the eastern part of Sri Lanka from the northern part of the island. These two popular Koothu forms reveal certain Nava Rasa expressions as in the classical Tamil dance.

Instrumental artists

These dance forms are performed in a raised and a half shapeddais platform. Their folk dances are accompanied together with instrumental artists and the folk vocal musicians. The whole accompaniment provides their background musical support on stage in standing position.

Yet it is noticeable that both the indigenous traditional dance forms have their own identity on the basis of rhythm, make-up, costumes and the way of using the hand gestures. Different rhythmic tempos of beatings help to identify the type of folk dance. For instance, the basic differences between the ‘Vadamodi’ and ‘Thennmodi’ arise due to the differences between rhythmic tempos. Thennmodi has a special and specific rhythmic pattern. Very often the common people confuse the term ‘Thennmodi’ with another Koothu dance called ‘Thenn Paangu’. These dance forms differ from one another. Musical tunes used for these two different dance forms also differ from one another. In the ‘Thenn Paangu Koothu’, the characters or the participants enter the stage with a song and leave the stage with a song. They adorn themselves and sing songs. The ‘Thenn Paangu Koothu ’and ‘Vada Paangu Koothu’ dances were mainly practised in the Mannar district in northwestern Sri Lanka. The ‘Vada Paangu Koothu’ is one of the important dance forms. This is often referred to as ‘Yarlpana Paangu’. It almost reflects the style of Thennmodi Koothu form. Like some of the Indian classical dance forms and Indian folk dances this particular folk dance also starts with ‘Thodayam’ or ‘Thodaya Mangalam’.

Vasappu Koothu is another Koothu form practised in the Manna district. This particular variety of Koothu form is performed continuously for four days. This Koothu form is based on an admixture of prose and poetry. The music composition is a combination of Carnatic and Hindustani music. Kathaivalzi Koothu was regarded as another Koothu form. Earlier this particular Koothu was used by pilgrims to refresh themselves. The songs and the rhythmic tempo of this Koothuinduced the pilgrims to walk in a brisk manner.

Kathaivalzi Koothu resembles the style and pattern of Kaathavaraayan Koothu and Kovalan Koothu of northern Sri Lanka. Kaathavaraayan Koothu is one of the most popular forms that existed in northern Sri Lanka. This particular Koothu is also referred to as ‘Sinthu Nadai Koothu’. It is also closer to the trend and influence of another northern-based Koothu form named Kovalan Koothu. This popular Koothu form is deeply rooted in the devotional cult.

Noteworthy factor

Kovalan Koothu is another Koothu form. For Kovalan Koothu, it is said that the script was written in 1760 A.D. The noteworthy factor is that this particular Koothu was performed only in the Mullaithivu district. The dais shape of the stage where the performance takes place is almost round.

The music and dance are rich in this particular outstanding folk dance. Referring to the goldsmith is the chief feature of the Kovalan Koothu.

It is generally said that all the folk dance nuances are beautifully interwoven with this selective music.

Isai Nadagam implies music with drama. Music is the basic soul and source for all the dramas and dances. In other words, music is the main source of the communication link between the audience and the artists in drama as well as in a dance.

It is generally assumed that the Isai Nadagam penetrated into the folk dance in Sri Lanka came from India. All of the above northern-based indigenous folk dances could be considered under the umbrella of ‘Traditional northern Tamil theatre of Sri Lanka’. In general, due to the spell of the 30 years of civil war in the island nation, the arrival of modern electronic mass media and the next generation of the indigenous artistes lost interest due to the lower income ultimately affected the survival of these indigenous dance forms.


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