Author: Magadi Harish Mahima (Mahima Harish), Bengaluru
Published as a part of Śāstra Raṅga-2023 Internship ; offered by NoopuraBhramari- IKS Centre. Article series No – 15
Purvarangavidhi is the series of rites and rituals that are to be performed before beginning a performance. The sequence of Purvarangavidhi is described in detail in the fifth chapter of the Natyashastra. In today’s desi dance forms, not all of these steps are followed. A Pooja is followed by a brief introductory piece (such as a pushpanjali, ranganjali, rangavandana etc) which covers a few aspects of the Purvarangavidhi. However, there are many dance drama forms in our country such as Yakshagana, Kuttiyattam, Terukootu and other which have an extensive prologue.
One such form is Kutiyattam (also called Kudiyattam/Koodiyattam) from the State of Kerala. Kutiyattam is a Sanskrit theatre and is belived to be one among the oldest living theatre traditions of India. Performed by very specific groups of people called Chakyars, Nangyars and Nambiyars, the Kuttiyattam performance has many pre-performance rituals which can be traced to what is described in Natyashastra.
In the Nepathya (greenroom), a series of rituals are followed even before commencement of makeup for the performance. The performers and the music ensemble (the Nambiar who plays the Mizhavu and the female Nangyar singer) take a dip in water and seek the permission of elders and gurus. They then worship lord Ganesha, light lamp, place paddy, beetle leaf etc in front of the lamp. Following this, the artists begin the ceremony of Talayilkettuka where the main actor ties a red headgear which he cannot remove until the programme is over. They begin their makeup with clarified butter (ghee) and then proceed to other products. It is believed that touching the face with ghee eight times invokes Astasiddhis, important for the success of the performance. The actors then get ready fully.
The procedure of Purvarangavidhi in the Nepathya is not mentioned extensively in Natyashastra. But one can assume that the actors offered prayers before they got ready. This is a ritual followed in many dance and dance drama styles too. The facial makeup of dance dramas like Kutiyattam, Yakshagana, Kathakali, Theyyam, terukootu etc are intricate and extensive. It is important that these actors follow some ritual before beginning the procedure of getting ready. This is very important ritualistic process in the Nepathyavidhi.
While the actors get ready in the green room, others decorate the Stage which usually is the Kutambalam in the temples of Kerala. The decorations, even to this day are done with plantain trees bearing fruits, areca nuts, paddy etc. The stand for the Mizhavu (the main percussion instrument), the Mizhavu, and a white cloth for the female singer are placed. This can be equated to Pratyahara which is the first step according to the Natyashastra.
After the arrangements for the commencement of the performance are done, the Nambiar (the one who plays the Mizhavu) enters the stage from the left. He seeks permission from elders for the commencement of the performance and sits behind the Mizhavu. He sounds the drum announcing the commencement of the play. This is called mizhavu ochihapedutta. This ritual is similar to that of Asravana lakshana of the Purvarangavidhi of Natyashastra. After the first sounding of the drum, the Chief priest of the temple offers Puja to Lord Ganesha.
The Nangyar or the female singer then enters the stage and sits on the white cloth spread out for her.. She then sounds the cymbals along with the beats of the Mizhavu. This is Avatarana of Natyashastra. Since there are no string instruments used in Kutiyyatam, this step of playing the instruments together can be equated to Margasarita as explained by Bharata. The Nangyar then sings praises of Lord Ganesha, Shiva and Saraswati. This is called Akkitta. Bharatha has explained this as Gitavidhi which he has further elaborated in later chapters. The next ritual followed is when the Nambiar sprinkles water for purification along with sandalwood paste and flowers. A similar ritual is also seen in the Natyashastra in the 80th and 81st shlokas of Purvarangavidhi. The Sutradhara purifies the others and himself with water. The 73rd shloka also describes the offering of flowers in Brahmamandala.
This concludes the ritualistic parts of the Kuttiyattam performance. What follows is called Purappadu. The entrance of the actor behind the curtains. The drummer and the actor perform a few steps behind the curtains. If the Sutradhara enters behind the curtains, he performs ceremonial steps called Panchapadavinyasa. Once the curtains are down, the performance begins. The Sutradhara first offers flowers (through symbolic movements) and does puja. He then offers his respects to Brahmins, deities and Astadikpalakas. Salutation to these deities and especially the Dikpalakas are mentioned by Sage Bharata too.
One can see that there are several aspects of the Purvarangavidhi of Natyashastra that are seen in Kutiyattam. Although some steps like Parighattana are missing due to the absence of string and lute instruments, some steps are not done in the order mentioned in Natyashastra, it can be observed that the ritualistic aspects of Purvarangavidhi are seen in dance dramas even today.
Purvaranga in Kitiyattam vis-a-vis Natya Sastra, D. APPUKUTTAN NAIR
Kutiyattam, Chettiarthodi Rajendran
Natyashastra Ascribed to Bharata Muni, Manmohan Gosh