Article Title

Chavittunātakam: Music-Drama in Kerala


Joly Puthussery


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Following the arrival of Vasco Da Gama on the Malabar coast on 14 May 1498, the Portuguese missionaries who came to Kerala in South India in the sixteenth century not only brought Latin Christianity to a region that already had a long Christian tradition—according to local tradition dating back to the apostle Thomas1—but also were instrumental in introducing forms of religious drama found in their native country. These forms in part grew out of the missionaries’ perception that South Indian Christianity differed from their own allegedly more orthodox religion, and were related to their program for establishing customs that would ensure the exclusiveness of their brand of Latin Christianity. However, the dramas were not transplanted in their pure European form, but instead in a region famous for Kathakai dance dramas they merged with local performance modes.2


1 Mar Gabriel, The Antiquity of Syrian Christians and Historical Events Relating to Them (1705), as cited in J. C. Visscher, Letters from Malabar (Madras: Gantz, 1862), 105; Susan Visvanathan, The Christians of Kerala (Madras: Oxford University Press, 1993), 170–73; and, for a brief survey, see Joly Puthussery, “Chavittunātakam: A Music Drama of Kerala Christians,” The Early Drama, Art, and Music Review 19 (Spring 1997): 93–94.

2 Other theories of origin ascribe Chavittunātakam to native traditions or Tamil theater. The first of these theories relies mainly on Antonio de Goeva’s Jornada de Arcebispo de Goa, Dom Aleixo de Menezes (Coimbra, 1606), 128, concerning the performance traditions of the native Christians of Kerala; see also Sabeena Raphy, Caviunātakam (Kottayam: SPCS, 1964), passim; C. J. Thomas, Uyarunna Yavanika (Kottayam: SPCS, 1964), 22; and T. M. Chummar, Padya Sahitya Carithram (Kottayam: NBS, 1960), 135–38. The origin in Tamil folk theater (Terukkūttu) is argued by Chummar Choondal, Christian Folklore (Trichur: Kera Folklore Academy, 1988), 77.

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