Padmashri Chitra Visweswaran & Sangita Kala Acharya T. S. Parthasarathy

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[Editor's 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 AD).

            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

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