Ottanthullal: A Cultural Treasure from the State of Kerala


Experience the rich cultural heritage of Kerala with Ottanthullal, a traditional art form boasting a history spanning over 300 years. Recently showcased at the prestigious Kerala School Kalolsavam 2023, Ottanthullal mesmerized audiences with its captivating blend of recitation and dance.

Ottanthullal, also known as Thullal, is a recite-and-dance form that follows the classical principles of Natyasasthra, a treatise on art compiled in the 2nd century B.C.E. It is known for its humor, social satire, and simplicity, and has spawned three separate versions: Ottanthullal, Seethankan thullal, and Parayan thullal.

an artist performing Ottanthullal
An Artist Performing Ottanthullal.

Ottanthullal is the most popular of the three varieties and is characterized by its use of humor, satire, and social criticism. In a performance, elaborate expressions and verses are used to bring mythological tales and stories to life.

The costume and makeup of the performer are similar to those of a Kathakali artist. Thullal is often performed at temple festivals and cultural programs and is accompanied by a singer who repeats the verses and an orchestra of mridangam or thoppimaddalam (percussions) and cymbals.

In the 18th century, the renowned Malayalam poet Kunchan Nambiar introduced the tullal art form (1705-1770). Nambiar’s delivery and sense of humor made the art form highly appealing to the general public. His wit and personal stories have been incorporated into the mythology and folklore of the region of Kerala

Ottanthullal was created  as a response to ridicule during a Chakyar Koothu performance. This shows how it started humbly and endured challenges. Although it’s based on Natya Shastra principles, Ottanthullal also critiques society through humor and simplicity in its performances.

Ottanthullal is usually performed solo at temple festivals and cultural events. It’s a lively display of Malayalam language and folklore that captivates audiences. Performers wear elaborate costumes similar to Kathakali, supported by a chorus and traditional music.

Rhythmic beats in Ottanthullal come from three main traditional instruments: the mridangam, a barrel-shaped drum; the idakka, known for its narrow middle; and the ilathalam cymbals. Together, they create a beautiful harmony of sounds that match the dancer’s steps.

Some Other Dance Forms Popular In Kerala Are :-

In addition to the Ottanthullal, there are several other popular dance forms in the state of Kerala. These include Kathakali, a traditional dance-drama form characterized by elaborate costumes and facial makeup, as well as Mohiniyattam, a classical dance form performed by women that combines elements of ballet and yoga. Theyyam is another popular dance form that is often performed as a ritual at temples and is known for its elaborate headdresses and face paint. Thirvathirakali is a dance form typically performed by women, while Kolkali is a group dance performed with sticks.

Kalaripayattu is a traditional martial art form that originated in Kerala and is known for its fluid movements and acrobatic feats. Padayani is a dance-drama form that involves elaborate masks and costumes, while Oppana is a form of dance-drama that originated among the Muslim community in Kerala. Margamkali is a group dance performed by the Syrian Christian community, and Koodiyattam is a traditional Sanskrit theater form that is over 1000 years old. Chakyar Koothu is a form of traditional theater that involves narration, acting, and dialogue. All of these dance forms contribute to the rich cultural heritage of Kerala.

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