Note: Sangita Kala Acharya Sri. T. S. Parthasarathy, eminent
musicologist, researcher and writer is one of the senior most scholars in
the field of Music and related arts. He was also the Secretary of the
Music Academy, Chennai for many years. He is a source of guidance to all
musicians and a respected authority on music theory and history.
Padmashri Smt. Chitra Visweswaran is one of the foremost contemporary
exponents of Bharatanatyam. This article was authored by Smt. Chitra
Visweswaran, with the support of Sri. TSP and is being published with the
kind permission of Sri. TSP]
In recent years one
witnesses on the performing platform the dances belonging to the ancient
temple tradition of South India. Navasandhis, Pushpanjalis
and Kavuttuvams form an integral part of this group. Though these
pieces have been performed for a number of years within the hallowed
precincts of temples, it is only recently that they have gained prominence
in Bhratanatyam recitals.
Of these, the Kavuttuvam
presents a fascinating scope for study, both historically and technically. As
one delves deeper, the subject becomes even more intriguing.
A study of the temple
tradition and extant literature sheds light on the fact that the Kavuttuvam of
Tamil Nadu has a parallel tradition in the Kavuttuvam of Andhra. The earliest
mention of the formal Kavuttuvam in Tamil literature dates back to the work
Kulappa Nayakkan Virali Vidu Dhuthu by Supradeepa Kavirayar (about 1725
Aadavarai eyyum madhavel kaikkichayum malar evalpol
Thaiyalal pushpanjali cheithal – cheithu pillaiyar
Kavuttuvam kondal ada ilaya nayanar
Kavuttuvam kondu nanninen
The term used here is
Kavuttuvam and not any distortion of or derivation from it. The lines suggest
that the dancer first struck the basic position of the feet essential for
commencing the dance. Whether she chanted the Kavuttuvam in a ritualitis
manner and then struck the position of the feet in order to dance or whether
she first took the position to dance and then performed the Kavuttuvam is,
however, not very clear. Perhaps it was a prelude to the dance proper, similar
to the Mangalacharan in Odissi – the invocation and not the actual performance
of the dance.
Discussing the word
Kavuttuvam, Prof. P. Sambamoorthy suggests the possibility of its being a
distortion of Kavithvam (from kAvya, which has much to do with poetry).
But the Kavuttuvams available to us are by no means great works of poetry. Nor
can they be traced back ritualistically to kavithva and kavya.
In his introduction to Jaya Senapati’s Nritta Ratnavali, Dr. V.
Raghavan traces the present day shabdam to Kavithvam, which appears to
be a more plausible explanation.
On the other hand, while
studying the term Kavuttuvam from the ritualistic point of view, it is
possible to associate it with temple rituals. The main deity in any temple is
called the moolavar or moola bimbam; the deity taken out in
procession is known as the utsavar, utsava bimbam or kautuka
bimbam. It is known that Kavuttuvams were performed in the temple
processions in the presence of the kautuka bimbam. Could the origin of
the name of this dance piece be traced to this ritual? It is significant that
the ceremony of tying the kappu around the wrists of young couples during the
wedding is called kautuka bandham. It is also interesting to note that
Kautukamu in Telugu literally means kapu utsava or the
celebration of tying the kapu (see Suryaraya Andhra Nighantu – Sangeeta
Sabda Chandrika, a dictionary of musical terms in Telugu). It is thus possible
that the Kavuttuvam or Kavutam was performed in the presence of the deity, in
the nature of tying a kapu to ward off evil.
My observation on the close
bond between Kavuttuvam and Kappu is further strengthened by the study of old
pieces such as Bhairavakappu in Takkayaga Parani by the famous Tamil poet,
Ottakuttan, who belongs to the 12th century A. D.
Uraka kankanath tharuvana panamani
Ulakatangalum thuyil ezha veyil ezha
Udai thavirthathan thiruvarai udai mani
Ulavi onrodonru alamara vilakiya
Karathalam tharum thamaruka chathipothi
Kazhal punaindha chemparipura oliyodu
Kalakalan kalan kalanena varum oru
Kariya kanjukan kazhalinaik karudhuvam
Many literary and poetic pieces begin with such
kappus. The Bhairavakappu has many characteristics found in
Kavuttuvams as available to us today. This clearly leads to a discussion of
the essential characteristic features of this dance piece that is today
performed in the name of Kavuttuvam.
Perhaps, the most
comprehensive definition of Kavuttuvam, is in Natyacahrya Vedantam
Parvatheesam’s Kuchipudi Natya Darpana in Sanskrit.
Pataksharena samyuktam devata vishayatmakam
Nanartha chitrasamyuktam kitthantam kautam uchyate
[That which has a combination of syllables
pertaining to footwork (sollukattu), that which pertains to the deeds
of Gods and thus presents pictures of various types and ends with the rhythmic
syllable, kittha, is called a Kavuttuvam]
Whether it is done in the
Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi styles, the concept and structure are the same. The
most important characteristic feature peculiar only to Kavuttuvams is the
close intertwining of sahitya (lyric) and sollukattu (rhythmic
syllables), which is non-existent in any other dance number.
To be Continued