The traditional folk theatre form known as ‘therukoothu’ is an extant and powerful form of local cultural expression of Anakavur Block, which is believed to have had its origins in the hoary past of the age of the Pallavas, who ruled most of Southern India from their headquarters of Kanchipuram, corresponding roughly to the 7th century AD. The term ‘therukoothu’, which can be translated literally as ‘street theatre’, is actually an old form of street theatre of Tamilnadu, which tries to narrate mainly the stories of the great Indian Epic, the ‘Mahabharata’ to the rural audience. The heroine of the epic, Draupadi, is worshipped as a goddess in the villages of Anakavur Block as also in several other parts of Tamilnadu. The performances are held for several days as part of the annual ‘Bharata Kuthu’ Festival in several villages. The performance usually starts around 9 PM and goes on till around 6 AM the next day. Most villagers turn up for the performance which is usually held near the temple of the goddess Draupadi.
This form of street theatre has been found to be a powerful medium to communicate very intricate and even esoteric messages concerning righteousness and moral behaviour to simple rural folks in such a manner as to make them understand these tenets clearly. We have also used this art form to integrate messages relating to environment, health, education & literacy in to the storylines of their repertoire and communicated them to the villages of Anakavur.
The village Purisai in Anakavur Block can verily be called the Mecca of ‘Therukoothu’ which has two leading groups of this folk theatre. It is interesting, therefore, to note its influence on the children’s group of Purisai, as narrated by Babu, the local volunteer. Here is what he has to say:
Our village is quite popular for its traditional art form ‘therukoothu’. It has been practised for ages in our village. Even from my very young days, I used to love watching ‘therukoothu’, which used to be played very often in our village. Its audio-visual grandeur, its fast pace and its very powerful movements appealed to my young mind very much and impacted me with a desire to learn the art and play it myself.
As the years rolled by and after several more performances of ‘therukoothu’ in my village, my long-awaited opportunity came. I got for the first time the opportunity of donning the role of a female-friend of Ponnuruvi, a female lead character in the story of ‘Karnamotcham’ (an episode from the great Indian epic Mahabaratha). Seeing my performance, the local ‘therukoothu’ gurus M/s. Sambandam and Subramaniam enquired of me if I would be interested in playing such roles regularly in ‘therukoothu’. Unfortunately for me at that time, due to unfavourable family circumstances, I could not grab the opportunity of such an offer, which could have catapulted me in to a professional ‘therukoothu’ artist.
Once again, there was a long wait for the opportunity to come again. Eventually it did come when Dhanasekar, the son of the Master Subramania Thambiran, offered to train me in ‘therukoothu’. Though I was hesitant at first, I decided to take the plunge when my friends and others persuaded me in favour of accepting the offer. Accordingly, I went back to Master Subramania Thambiran and his son and opted to act in the play ‘Thugil’ (another episode from the epic Mahabaratha). What was interesting about this phase was that we went as a team of 13 friends for the training. Our masters wrote out the script of the chosen storyline and asked us to rehearse it. We did the rehearsals everyday from 8PM to 11PM. We were taught how to sing each song in its proper ‘raga’ (the tunes). We rehearsed accordingly. I was given the role of no less a character than the great Draupadi, the heroine herself! Initially, I felt daunted of donning this difficult role. However all my friends and my masters encouraged me to don the role saying that I was competent enough to do the role. So, I did ultimately take up that role and performed well. I could sense the respect that my village people showed me after this performance!
Some members of our children’s group have also been roped in to this art form. Sathyaraj has donned the role of Nakulan as also of Vikarnan. Now the storyline of Karnamotcham is being scripted and getting ready. I have been asked to do the role of Ponnuruvi, the wife of Karnan. Needless to say that I am thrilled about it!
Posted: July 28th, 2010