Indigenous Tamil dance forms | Sunday Observer

Indigenous Tamil dance forms

28 February, 2021

The term 'Koothu' was generally used in Tamil to refer to the dance form. That's why the dancing deity Lord Nataraja is often referred to by numerous names, such as Koothapiran, Koothuandavan and Kootharasan. The ancient Sanskrit stage was often referred to as Koothuambalam.

The ancient Tamil classic Silappadikaram was written by the royal ascetic Illangoadikal in the second century A.D. It mentions numerous Koothu forms that existed at that time. Adiyarkunalar, the commentator on Silappadikaram, wrote the first commentary on Silappadikaram after the 13th century of its appearance.

Ancient Tamil literary work 'Kootha nool' states that dance originated in performing drama and drama originated in dance. In ancient times, there was no proper separation between dance and drama. Initially, dance and drama were considered as one and the same art form. But with the passage of time, both art forms gradually separated from one another. They later maintained their own identity and originality.

Koothu forms

Today, the Tamil word Koothu means folk dance. It is generally referred to as Koothuk Kalai. Koothu forms are influenced by local culture, tradition and regional practices. These Koothu forms are known as Naatu Koothu. The Tamil word Naatu means 'village' or country. At a regional level, the Sri Lankan Tamil indigenous dances were divided into three categories.

One is the Eastern indigenous dance form. The other is Northern regional indigenous Koothu dances, including the Mannar district, Vanni district and the Jaffna district. Other regional Tamil folk dances are based on upcountry Tamil indigenous dances.

Thennmodi Koothu and Vadamoodi Koothu forms are quite popular in the Northern and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka. The Tamil indigenous dances are practised, preserved and protected in the Tamil dominated areas of the country. Earlier, the Koothu forms are well protected and preserved by Annaviyars who were the men practising Koothus.

The approach of practising of Thennmodi Koothu is different from Vadamodi Koothu. One Koothu form is different from the other, especially on the basis of Thala Kattu (rhythm and tempo). The Batticaloa district is famous for traditional Koothus.

Batticaloa Koothu forms are more or less accompanied with two main instruments: drums and thalam. Thennmodi Koothu practised in Jaffna is always accompanied with more than two instruments.

It was practised with a certain selective orchestra. Prof S. Maunaguru's contribution is immeasurable to preserve the traditional local Tamil dance forms. To create public awareness among the people he himself performed on stage.

Dance and drama

His untiring efforts even after the 30 years of the battle against terrorism to protect and preserve these traditional indigenous Koothu forms of eastern Sri Lanka are commendable. Because of him, the Tamil world has got an opportunity to see these indigenous art forms once again in the eastern Sri Lanka.

All the ancient Koothu are intermingled with dance and drama to a certain extent.

The Northern Sri Lankan indigenous Koothu forms survived due to the efforts of the late Prof Vithyananthan.

In the North, most Koothu forms were related to different castes. Some Koothus are still persevered by the Hindu and Christian communities.

According to previous records, Vadamodi Koothu, Thennmodi Koothu, Thennpaangu Koothu, Vadapaangu Koothu, Vassapu Koothu, Kathathavarayan Koothu, Kovalan Koothu, Nondi Koothu,Vilasam Koothu and Pallu Nadakam were some of the remarkable Koothu forms in the North.

At present, a very few varieties of Koothu exist. A handful of scholars have conducted a thorough research on Sri Lankan Tamil folklore.

Earlier, many Koothu forms existed, but recently, due to the arrival of numerous modern technical and electronic mass media, traditional art forms have gradually lost their importance.

Nava Rasa expressions

Today, many Sri Lankan Koothu forms are only known by their names.

Some ancient indigenous dance forms performed in Sri Lanka are not at all practised in the present era.

For instance, certain folk dances, such as Nondi Nadakam, Pallu Nadakam and Thinnai Koothu were practised by the earlier generation of Northern Sri Lanka. But these are not practised by the present generation.

In other words, the above Koothu forms are not in use. Some folk literature indicates that the Vada modi and Thenn modi Koothu forms reached the North and East. These two popular Koothu forms reveal certain Nava Rasa expressions as in the classical Tamil dance. These dance forms are performed in a raised and half shaped dais platform.

Their folk dances are accompanied together with instrumental artistes and the folk vocal musicians. The whole accompaniments provide their background musical support on stage in standing position.

Yet it is noticeable that both the indigenous traditional dance forms have their own identity on the basis of rhythm, make-up, costumes and the way of using the hand gestures.

Different rhythmic tempos of beatings help identify the type of the folk dance. For instance, the basic differences between the 'Vadamodi' and 'Thenn modi' arise due to the differences of rhythmic tempos. Thenn modi has a specific rhythmic pattern.

People often confuse the term 'Thenn modi' with another Koothu dance called 'Thenn Paangu'. These dance forms differ from one another.

Musical tunes used for these two different dance forms also differ from one another.

In the 'Thenn Paangu Koothu', the characters or the participants enter the stage with a song and leave the stage with a song. They adorns themselves and sing the songs.

The 'Thenn Paangu Koothu'

and 'Vada Paangu Koothu' dances were mainly practised in the Mannar district.