Mudiyettu is the ritual dance drama annually performed after the harvest of summer crops in Kerala. Recently this ancient art form that is believed to be more than 250 years old was inscribed in UNESCOs heritage list . This art form involves elaborate drawings on floors, masks made of areca nut fronds and playing of drums. What was once well patronised, now has only three traditional families of regular performers.
Mudiyettu is one of the art forms that is performed to please goddess Bhadrakali (Durga) and depicts the story of the war of Bhadrakaali with the two notorious Asuras Daarikan and Daanavendran, eventually Killing them.Originally these characters used to perform with speech and dance, but later on rhythmic steps were introduced which gives more life to the characters and makes the performance more interesting.
The story of Mudiyettu goes like this: Daarika and Daanavendra were two notorious Asuras, born to Daarumathi and Daanamathi. In order to achieve more powers, they performed severe penance and Lord Brahma was finally forced to appear before them. They demanded the boon for immortality, but Lord Brahma declined this request as death was inevitable for anybody once taken birth. The Asura brothers then compromised with the boon that no males can ever kill them. Lord Brahma then asked them why they did not demand that females also could not kill them. The asuras enraged by the pride of the boon they got, retorted “It is a disgrace to us and our community to demand likewise.How how dare a female kill us as long as we are strong enough for anyone to harm us?”. Annoyed by the pride of these Asuras and sensing their evil intentions, Lord Brahma curses them-“Let you be killed by a female”.
There are few distinguishing features of Mudiyettu, which highlight its ritualistic nature. The absence of a restricted and designated stage ensures the viewers’ involvement, which is an essential aspect of Mudiyettu. The near total absence of Hasthamudras (Hand gestures) perhaps the most important element of acting in Kathakali, Koodiyattam and the like is a clue to its ancestry.
The theme of the performance is the well known story of the incarnation of Bhadrakali as the compilation of the positive forces of the universe and as the sum total of the strength of all the gods. It was essential as the adversary was the concentration of all that are evil, viz., ferocity, oppression and disease. Mudiyettu has succeeded in presenting both these adversaries in their full glory through well composed flowing movements in unison with awe inspiring performance by percussionists, the like of which can be witnessed only in Kerala.
Mudiyettu was considered the ultimate remedy against the most dreaded epidemic, Small Pox. Still, popular belief is strong as is indicated by the rush of devotees wanting the blessing of the actor performing as Kali. Blessing of the entire village by him at the end of the performance is an essential part of the performance.
There are few mandatory rituals needed to be performed before Mudiyettu is performed at a venue. These include, Kalamezhuthu and Pattu and Kuruthi (Sacrifice). The former is to please the deity herself whereas the latter is intended for her Bhoothagana (the army of demons).
There are many scenes in the performance like the Narada delivering the message to Lord Shiva the stress is on three important scenes namely, (i) Darikan’s entry, (ii) Kali’s entry and (iii) the fight.