Kutiyattam & Eco-Aesthetics: An Introduction

The BRM Project 2023 has three primary phases: The Body Remembers the Mountain (BRM) a research segment on Kutiyattam; In the Blue Houses Dream the Mountains, an intercultural eco-performance project; and an extensive community outreach program. 

The Body Remembers the Mountain (BRM) is an archival, ethnographical, and critical performance study that revolves around a close investigation of Kaliasodharanham (Lifting Mount Kailash) in order to examine how the performing body of Kutiyattam engages with the questions of eco-aesthetics. Kutiyattam—a Sanskrit theatre form with a highly codified system of acting, dancing, and swara (Vedic chants), and the oldest theatre form still practised in Kerala—has been officially recognized by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” In this study, an eco-aesthetics frame articulates how our relationships with the natural, built, and cultural environments can be expanded through the performing body in, and of, Kutiyattam.

The Body Remembers the Mountain acts as a literal and metaphorical reference point for an engagement with mountain and ecological studies through the performing arts. Kaliasodharanham, from Bhasa’s Sanskrit play Abhiseka Nataka (The Coronation), is a tale drawn from the Ramayana. It offers an emblematic narrative about Mount Kailash, the “Seat of Shiva” located in the Tibetan Himalaya and considered the sacred “umbilical cord of the world.” As a Sanskrit theatre form, Kutiyattam has evolved a complex performance practice that draws on, among other sources, Bharata Muni’s Natyasatra. In this context, a close study of the techniques of Kutiyattam provides an immediate context for considering how history, memory, and aesthetics work through the practices of embodiment. 

Regarding Kutiyattam’s performance of the mountain, Sreenath Nair notes: “The actor has a complete image of the mountain Himalaya when the performance begins, but for the audience it is a perceptual process following each moment of the enactment, discovering objects, shapes, and materials distributed by the actor leading to a culmination of the image of the mountain Himalaya.” This statement draws attention to how the techniques of perception and use of space can trigger the story of Ravana lifting Mt. Kailasa. These performances simultaneously enact the magnitude of Mt. Kailasa as well as invoke the power attached to the lifting of the mountain.

Despite the plenitude of such performances, as well as pilgrimages and eco-tourism to the Kailash Sacred Landscape that occur annually, Mount Kailash is increasingly subject to the destructive impact of climate change and the current situation highlights the increasing risk and vulnerabilities for the people and the region of the sacred landscape. 

The Body Remembers the Mountain focuses on collaboratively creating new methodologies,

insights, and relationships about mountains that respond to the presence of both COVID and climate change. BRM asks how we can re-enchant our experiences of what we call the eco-body, the dancing and theatrical body-in-space as it is situated within the material, cultural, social, and natural landscapes.

A full-length article, “The Body Remembers the Mountain: From Kutiyattam’s Kailasodharanham to In the Blue Houses Dream the Mountains,” will detail Kutiyattam and eco-aesthetics and the links to In the Blue Houses Dream the Mountains, our intercultural eco-project, which explored the transformative power of mountain stories. 

For more information, please contact us directly.

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