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Ottan Thullal, Satirical Art Form

There is an interesting anecdote behind the emergence of this art form. It seems that during the 18th century, the legendary Malayalam poet Kalakkaththu Kunjan Nambiar while playing the Mizhavu for Chakyar Koothu (it is a solo dance performed by singing the divine verses with the accompaniment of a Mridangam, along with a restrained repeater singing at the backdrop) , happened to have dozed off one day due to the sheer stagnation of his duty while the Chakyar bantered to glory . This led to the fuming Chakyar spitting out expletives in front of the audience, eventually leading to his utter humiliation.


But with the mortification he went through, Kunjan Nambiar was not let down in self contempt but rose valiantly by composing a poem from the Mahabharata epic in a rhythmic manner. He conjured an art form which he named ‘Ottan Thullal’, that has a special sort of dance accompanying his exposition and if legends are to be believed he performed it the very next evening, right when Chakyar Koothu was being played. It was said that the crowd that was gathered around the Chakyar was attracted by the novelty and wittiness of the event performed by Kunjan Nambiar. This embarked the new beginning of an alternative art form, Ottan thullal.

When Jawaharlal Nehru happened to witness this art form, he called it ‘The poor man’s Kathakali’ due to its striking semblance of green make-up and colourful costumes. It is mostly a One Man Show where the dancer will also have to act as well as recite the verses. It has now been performed by female artists as well. Kunjan Nambiar was known to have performed this based on social and political innuendoes and was also known for his reputation for pulling the leg of distinguished personalities with his novel satirical art form.

But the Chakyar, becoming furious of all the happenings, went to the king of Chenbakaserry and complained. The king, learning of Kunjan’s pranks, declared from then on that no ‘thullal’ would be performed on temple premises; which to this date happens to be obeyed.