How this Kerala artiste is bringing back Seethakali


Decades in the past, in erstwhile Desinganad (current day Kollam, Kerala), the times working as much as Onam have been busy for the Veda neighborhood. They carried out ‘Seethakali’ (roughly translated to Sita’s play), a dance drama, which narrated the story of the Ramayana by means of Sita’s perspective.

The Vedas, who labored within the fields, carried out it solely for his or her feudal lords, within the courtyards of their giant homes. By the ‘80s the observe ended and the artwork kind grew to become almost extinct.

In 2020, this Dalit Ramayana is being carried out once more with the identical fervour and keenness by a gaggle of devoted artistes from Kollam. T N Shajimon, a filmmaker and theatre artiste, who revived ‘Seethakali’ and introduced it back to the general public area, says the method of re-rendering it was sophisticated, but rewarding.

Unearthing a misplaced artwork

Shajimon gained the Kerala Folklore Akademi award for the yr 2018 (declared just lately) for his efforts. ‘Seethakali’, he says, affords an fascinating perception into the socio-political material of erstwhile Kerala.

While the remainder of India celebrated Ramayan with Ram as God and hero, ‘Seethakali’ spoke of Sita’s trials and tribulations, her life and her decisions. “Here, the Ram-Ravan war is not relevant and is therefore absent in the narrative. The characters are portrayed as simple human beings, without the aura of divinity,” says Shajimon, over telephone from his hometown Perinad (in Kollam).


The dance drama might also have been used as a device of resistance of the oppressed communities towards the higher castes, observes Shajimon. “Earlier, this art form was practised at a time when women of lower castes were not allowed to cover their breasts, but the Sita in ‘Seethakali’ was played by a fully-clothed woman, which can be seen as a bold statement,” he provides.

When the Land Reform Act got here into impact within the seventies, the Veda communities, who lived as a big unit, have been displaced and so they broke up into smaller models. Gradually, the artwork kind pale.

Festival favorite

  • Shajimon has made a documentary, Seethakali – Desinganadinte Dalit Ramayanam, written, directed and scripted by him. The 40-minute movie, which traces the evolution, reputation and relevance of the artwork kind, has been screened at a handful of documentary movie festivals.

Though the Pulaya neighborhood adopted ‘Seethakali’ and popularised it, enjoying it in village squares and on avenue sides, the observe too regularly ended within the 80s, with the appearance of contemporary technique of leisure.

Shajimon labored for near 4 years, gathering info and placing the narrative collectively. Just a few months into his analysis, he realised there was no written materials to check with, nor a single supply who may present an correct overview. “It dawned on me that the task I had undertaken was indeed daunting,” he says.

He started his pursuit in 2017 at Perinad, which was a centre of ‘Seethakali’, speaking to surviving members of the Veda and Pulaya communities, to assemble materials. “Initially, it felt like piecing together a jigsaw of foggy memories,” says Shajimon. “But I persisted with the interviews, recording as the elderly people sang,” he provides.

A contemporary spin

The whole narrative unravels by means of songs — he collected 28 of them over a interval of three years. Since the Vedas labored within the fields, the songs have a people fashion. Some of the songs have additionally been closely influenced by widespread people music and dance traditions similar to Vallappaattu, Kuthirappaattu and Rakshasappattu.


The actions contain a sequence of fundamental steps. “I have tried to create a piece that is as close to the original as possible,” he says. Shajimon’s workforce right this moment has 20 artistes together with actors, singers and percussionists. “I have tried to condense it to a two-hour performance without diluting its essence,” he says. The essential characters comprise Sita, Ram, Lakshman, Ravan and Hanuman.

Shajimon and his workforce have carried out throughout the size and breadth of Kerala, introducing ‘Seethakali’ to individuals who had by no means even heard of it. “We usually give a brief introduction and its historical context before the performance and the response we got was overwhelming,” he says, including, “While the older people enjoy the story, the younger ones appreciate it on a different level. They seem to love the anti-hero. Ravan, most times, draws the most applause.”

Any historical tune associated to the artwork kind that is found could be verified and added to the repertoire, he says.

The final intention, nevertheless, is to carry it back to the standing of populist artwork from prefer it was in historical past — “We want Perinad to be known as a ‘Seethakali’ centre, as it was before.”

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