Sudha Gopalakrishnan


Prabandham to āṭṭakkatha: Tradition of

performance texts in medieval Malayāḷam


The paper looks at the history of the origin and evolution of texts used in performance practices in Kerala from the medieval to premodern age. I have two points to make: during the twelfth-thirteenth down to the eighteenth centuries, a new form of literary expression emerged in Kerala known as prabandha which, though it had vital links to earlier literature, was also connected to its performance tradition. I look at how this literary form became the axis in which recitative-performative forms like Pāthakam and Kūttu evolved, and how its impact extended to arts like Kathakali that developed later, around the seventeenth century and to its performance text, called āṭṭakkatha (story for performance). I have had some familiarity with Kathakali over the years, seeing hundreds of stage performances of Kathakali plays, many stories perhaps many times over. A stint at learning and performing on the stage decades back has also been an advantage to me that I cannot discount.