A beautiful essay on Koodiyattam by David Shulman

Creating and destroying the universe in twenty nine nights .


In the final night of this year’s play, in the course of an eight-hour tour de force, Lord Rama was made fully visible to those capable of imagining him together with the actor who manifests him in gesture. Believe me: It is no small matter to create God on stage. We then saw this god as he was, or is, after his wife was kidnapped—grief-stricken to the verge of madness; trying desperately to send her someone, anyone, a bee, a goose, as a messenger with a greeting of comfort and love; hallucinating; hopefully preparing a bed made from leaves and vines for her and for him in the vast wilderness where he is wandering; calling her again and again, in vain, to come to bed. All of the world’s loneliness, which is also God’s, in its immensity, variety, and depth, was called up into that final scene, an overwhelming culmination, beyond anything that I can describe or paraphrase, that I carry with me still, weeks after the performance came to an end, if indeed that is what it was.

Even then, at that moment, after 130 hours, I thought the performance had been too short—by far—though the actor and drummers, utterly spent, didn’t agree when I said so. They were happy to have reached the end without mishap or mistakes, a constant danger in a performance so rife with consequence and existential import; but Margi Madhu said he was also sad and a little empty, having prepared for this work for over half a year. To my mind, the sheer richness of it speaks well for its future. Kudiyattam, perhaps the oldest continuous art form in India, simply cannot come to an end.