Traditional Tamil Theater


KATTAIKKUTTU is Tamil Nadu’s unique heritage theatre. It is a Tamil-language based, physical and vocal form of rural, open-air ensemble theatre widespread in the northern and central parts of the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. Kattaikkuttu uses different kinds of song, music, articulated prose, acting, movement, make-up and elaborate costumes to produce all-night narrative events most of which are based on the pan-Indian epic, the Mahabharata. Besides the stunning visual appearance of its characters, what strikes one in these performances is their high energy and heroic nature, their characteristic sound—exuberant, loud, pervasive, upfront—and their irrepressible comedy.

Kattaikkuttu is a multifaceted way of making theatre. It uses a wide range of media that require multiple skills, including a strong voice, versatile acting and movement skills and a talent for spontaneous comedy. As a theatre tradition of the non–elite, Kattaikkuttu always has been adaptable and geared to the changing demands and expectations of its audiences.

Kattaikkuttu enjoys little social standing and respect although it is complex and profoundly meaningful. It requires multiple skills and years of intensive training of the performers. The urban, educated middle classes tend to think of Kattaikkuttu as a theatre that lacks sophistication and taste and they question its ability to be “contemporary”. Therefore, parents in rural and urban areas hardly ever envisage Kattaikkuttu as a sustainable and dignified career for their children.