Cavittu Natakam



  • (Tamil: step play) A form of Christian theater in the southIndian state of Kerala. It originated in the 16th century and hassurvived with the support of the Roman Catholic Church. Most playsare in Tamil, although members of the all-male troupes speak Malayalamas their first language. The Cavittu Natakam incorporates elementsof the martial arts and acrobatics, with the actors stamping theirfeet in vigorous dancing movements. Costumes are colourful Indianversions of historical Western dress; evil characters often wear sunglasses.Actors playing kings come from selected Christian families and familystatus also determines other roles. An asan, or teacher, trainsthe actors and manages the productions. Cavittu Natakam isseldom seen today, except in central Kerala during the major churchfestivals from Advent through to Easter.

    The subjects are the historical or legendary heroes of Christiantradition, including saints, biblical figures, Charlemagne, and StGeorge. One famous work, The Play of Charlemagne, requires80 characters to perform the story over 15 nights. It was derivedfrom Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and includes great battle scenes.

    The stage is raised in a village or town near a church. Ateach end of the acting area are tall platforms reached by ladders,and from these lofty heights the kings hold court. Entrances are madefrom a door on the right and exits through one on the left. A centralopening reveals the chorus and musicians, who perform backstage. Themain instruments are drums and large bell-brass cymbals. During theperformance the katiyakkaran, or clown, amuses the audienceand interprets the action in Malayalam. He also makes sarcastic remarksabout the teacher, who remains on stage during the performance, settingthe tempo with hand cymbals and sometimes giving cues with a whistle.