Theru Koothu- That Wonderful Kaleidoscope Of Emotions, Now Battling For Survival

Posted on May 13, 2013 in Culture-Vulture

By Priyanshi Goyal:

I discovered this amazing art form called Theru Koothu, local to the state of Tamil Nadu, when I came across the award-winning short film called Karna Motcham depicting the plight of artists of this forgotten art.


Therukoothu is a performance art form which depicts the scenes from ancient epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Tamil classical epics. The artists are dressed in heavy and complex costumes in vibrant colours and wear bright elaborated make-up. They put on a high-towering headdress, sparkling shoulder plates and wide colourful skirts. The art form relies completely on songs rather than dialogues. Generally, the performers are trained to sing themselves, in a high-pitched voice. The performers are often all-males and play the female characters too. They are highly expressive, showing rather exaggeratedly the emotions of love, affection, anger, anguish and grief. This art-form makes a visual treat for the audience that live these legends along with the performers.
It is usually performed during the months of March-April or July-August during the village festivities and is a source of great entertainment for the rural people. Apart from entertainment, Koothu taught the rural people about their rich, varied history and religion. Themes also include the very famous martial-arts of the region and great battles and wars.

Like most of the other Indian art forms, Theru-Koothu is handed down from one generation to the next. Performers hail from down-trodden families from lower echelons of the society. In their better times, these artists were held in high esteem for their artistry and talent. They entertained the rural folks on invitation of the elders from respective villages.

Quite unfortunately, the art of Koothu is virtually dying. Dying because of being overshadowed by the popularity of the cinema and dying in the want of patronage. The artists are a forgotten lot today. They either perform in the village temples of their own accord or live on hand-outs. They are often unskilled in any other means of livelihood. India, as a country, has a rich diversity. We take pride in the uniqueness of our traditions and heritage. If publicised properly, this art-form can attract art-enthusiasts from all over the country and beyond. This, in turn, will give the state’s tourism a much-needed boost while giving a new lease of life to this wonderful yet dying art.

It will create employment for a lot of artists who are migrating to other means for their sustenance. The highly- talented lot desperately needs a patron. Until fairly recently, there were no formal institutions to train the artists to come to terms with the modern-audience and helping the art to adapt to the modern times. Introducing the art to new technology, to make it more visually appealing is also important for its survival.

We need to make sure that this art does not become one of the many unique Indian aspects of culture that gets buried in Western influence.