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Enchanting Kerala


ISSUE: 209



Mudiyettu is a ritual art mostly performed in the Ernakulam and Kottayam districts of Kerala. Originating from the Bhadrakali cult, Mudiyettu recently found a place in UNESCO's Representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This recognition by UNESCO is for art forms that are struggling for existence and helps in garnering global support for the art form and its practitioners.

Even though a ritual art form, Mudiyettu exudes elements of devotion and entertainment. It is usually performed in temples dedicated to Goddess Bhadrakali, once the summer harvest is over in Kerala.

In some places in Kerala, this ritual also takes the name Mudiyeduppu. The actor who adorns the role of Bhadrakali wears a huge headgear with flowing hair. Veekku chenda, Oorutu chenda, Elathalam and Chengila are some of the percussion instruments used while performing the ritual of Mudiyettu. The events featuring in this ritual dance are predominantly vibrant and aggressive in nature, with elements of drama and on occasions comical with sessions involving performers interacting with onlookers.

The basis of the story for the Mudiyettu ritual is from the Hindu mythology, in which Goddess Bhadrakali vanquishes the wretched demon - Darika. Other characters that form part of the story besides Goddess Bhadrakali and Darika are Lord Shiva, Sage Narada, Dhanavendran, Koyimbadan and Kooli. While Dhanavendran is yet another demon who supports Darika, Koyimbadan is a character that narrates the story; while Kooli comes as a comic sort of character who assists Goddess Bhadrakali in her fight against the demons.

The Mudiyettu ritual starts with the ceremony of Kalamezhuthu. This involves the drawing of the protagonist Goddess Bhadrakali in a specially marked area in the temple premises, using various organic colour powders. This is followed by the Kalampooja or the worshipping of the drawing made on the floor. The drawing or the kalam is then erased from bottom to top using tender coconut leaves. The erased material is then distributed among the devotees as prasadam or materials that carry the divine grace of the Goddess. This is then followed by a performance by the musicians called arangathu keli before the dramatics begin.

The Mudiyettu ritual, once it enters the story phase of the ritual begins with Sage Narada briefing Lord Shiva about the evil deeds of the demons Darika and Dhanavendra. Hearing this, Lord Shiva, to safeguard the well being of the people of earth, creates Goddess Bhadrakali to kill the demons. In the climax stage of the story Goddess Bhadrakali confronts Darika and in the fearsome battle that ensues, Goddess Bhadrakali emerges victorious after killing the demons Darika and Dhanavendra. The ritual comes to an end with the singing of Shivastuthi (songs in praise of Lord Shiva).

The songs used in Mudiyettu are in the form of dialogues rendered by the characters involved. The characters in Mudiyettu have colourful and vibrant costumes and makeup. With prominent headgears, the characters assume supernatural outlook. The makeup for characters in Mudiyettu closely resembles that of Kathakali - the popular classical performing art form of Kerala.

The Mudiyettu ritual normally takes place on the Bharani asterism in the monthof Meenam as per the Malayalam calendar.

The recent recognition by UNESCO that saw Mudiyettu getting listed in its representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity has literally come as a boon to this unique ritual art form of Kerala. It can now look forward to regain some of its lost popularity and also derive some amount of vigour for its survival.
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