chapter  12
12 Pages

Experiencing Sanskrit dramas in Kerala: epic performances and performers


This chapter concerns the practice of enacting sacred dramas in Kerala, south India. The tradition, known as Kūṭiyāṭṭam, is about 1,000 years old in its currently employed style of enactment, with roots even older than that in India’s theatrical practices. In 2001, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the UN’s cultural preservation agency) named a group of human activities as “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” The practice of dramatic enactment known as Kūṭiyāṭṭam was one of the two Indian traditions to receive this designation. During a series of visits between 1992 and 2006, I used photography, videotaping, and interviewing of performers and supporters to document this practice. This fieldwork led to the publication of translations of two complete dramas and studies of these and other dramas of the Kūṭiyāṭṭam tradition. This chapter describes my encounter with the rare and fascinating Hindu religious art form of Kūṭiyāṭṭam, in which performers enact dramas to enable an audience to experience Rasa, a state of emotional consciousness that is both religious rapture and joyful appreciation of the artistry.