Theru Koothu – The dying folk art of Tamilnadu, India – Karna Motcham


Myself By T.V. Antony Raj


This is a sequel to my article “Theru Koothu – The dying folk art of Tamilnadu, India” published on July 3, 2012.

The art of Theru Koothu is handed down from one generation to the next. The performers hail from poor down trodden families of the lower echelon of society. They know no other trade. Theru Koothu is now virtually a dying art – dying because of the popularity of cinema, dying for want of patronage.

In earlier times these artists were held in high esteem for their artistry and talent. They entertained the village folk on invitation by the respective village elders. But nowadays they are a forgotten lot and perform during temple festivals in villages of their own accord and live on hand-outs.

This Tamil short film “Karna Motcham” directed by S. Murali Manohar is a real life depiction of a day in the life of a rural Theru Koothu (Street Play) artist who comes to a school in Chennai City to dance for the children at a function to be held there.

The emotions of disappointment, pain and anguish of the artist are well brought out by the actors, the director and in the dialogues written by S. Ramakrishnan.

This film has won more than 60 awards including National award by Government of India, Best short film awarded by Tamilnadu Government , Best Director award at the Canadian International Tamil Film Festival.


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12 thoughts on “Theru Koothu – The dying folk art of Tamilnadu, India – Karna Motcham”

  1. WOW! How exciting to see such a stirring debate about the living art-form of ‘Koothu’. I didn’t realise so many people shared my love for the tradition!

    Mr TV Anthony Raj, I clicked on your ‘ABOUT’ page and was unable to find any connection with Koothu on there in either an academic or professional capacity or as a frequent spectator. May I ask what your experience/association with the art form is?

    Your article (while interesting) seems to only focus on the cinematic ‘Karna Motcham’ and makes no mention of the (highly-attended) performances that happen weekly in villages across Tamil Nadu.

    Sir, when may I ask, did you last attend a ‘Koothu’ performance?
    Perhaps you feel it is dying because it is not visible in the city of Chennai but as a rural art-form its foundations have always been in the rural communities and not that of the urban space.

    Perhaps you haven’t ventured out to experience these performances firsthand. Also, I can’t imagine there being many ‘Koothu’ performances happening in Ellicott City, Maryland, USA.

    I really look forward to your response. It is great to enter into a debate about an art-form that I love and enjoy so much and that I see performed on a frequent basis.


    1. Mr. Krishnamurthi,

      Thank you for reading my article “Theru Koothu – The dying folk art of Tamilnadu, India – Karna Motcham”.

      Should I be a Theru Koothu artist or a connoiseur of this art to write about this art form? I am a layman interested in all arts and savour their beauty in whatever form they are if they impress me.

      First of all I would like to state that I wrote my articles on “Theru Koothu” not as a subject for a debating platform. I wrote it mainly for the younger generations some of whom might not be aware that this art form even exists. So, please do not make my blog “Impressions” a platform for debate. I will be happy if you use it as a forum to make the public aware of this form of art and thereby pave the way for a brighter dawn for these artists. Your articles are welcome and I will gladly publish them under your name if they conform to

      You state that my “article (while interesting) seems to only focus on the cinematic ‘Karna Motcham’ …” etc. I wonder whether you have read my other article, “Theru Koothu – The dying folk art of Tamilnadu, India.” ( and the related articles that I have mentioned therein, C.V. Rajan’s articles in particular.

      You say, “I didn’t realise so many people shared my love for the tradition!.” This implies and confirms my statement that Theru Koothu is turning into a dying folk art in Tamilnadu. I am not an American living in Ellicott City, MD. I am a proud Indian. I came to US last January, as a visitor, and will be back in Chennai coming January.

      I am now 71 years young. I hail from a village named “Manakkarai” situated near Vallanad in Tuticorin District. I saw my first cinema film at the age of 7 in Tuticorin – M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s “Haridas.” I remember seeing Theru Koothu performances as a child whenever they were enacted in our village. Later my family moved to Palayamkottai. Even now, I sitt through the night with my friends watching Theru Koothu during festivals. The last Theru Koothu I attended was about 2 years ago at a ‘Kodai’ festival in Srivaikuntam.

      I fully agree with your statement, “it is not visible in the city of Chennai… and not that of the urban space.” So, what do you think can be done to publicise this art form in urban areas where most rural folks are migrating to?



      1. Hiii Sir,

        My name is Rajesh.. Recently i saw your article.. No words to explains about your article.. Nanum oru therukoothu kalaignarin magan
        enbathil perumai adaigiren. En thanthai therukoothil miruthangam vasippavar.. Intha kalakatathil therukoothu kalaignargal padum kashtathai nan ariven..Nan unga kooda oru nimidavathu mobile layo or neragavo paarkka virumbugiren…My mobile number is 7305774142.

        Vazhga Tamil., Valarga Tamil Kalai.,


  2. Hallo Hanne,

    If you had clicked the ‘ABOUT’ on my blog (found at the top right above “Impressions”) you would have known my name as T.V. Antony Raj; but most of my friends call me ‘tvaraj’.

    I am at the moment in Ellicott City, Maryland, USA. I came here last January and will be back in Chennai in early January 2013. If my health permits, I would gladly come and visit you else you can come and visit me in Chennai once I am there and be my guest. I’ll keep you informed.

    In the meantime, may the Almighty bless you and those dear to you.

    Dank je


    Hallo Hanne,

    Als je had geklikt op de ‘over’ op mijn blog (te vinden rechts bovenaan boven “Impressions”) die u zou hebben geweten mijn naam als T.V. Antony Raj, maar de meeste van mijn vrienden noemen me ‘tvaraj’.

    Ik ben op dit moment in Ellicott City, Maryland, USA. Ik kwam hier afgelopen januari en weer terug in Chennai in het begin van januari 2013. Als mijn gezondheid het toelaat, zou ik graag komen en anders bij u langs kunt komen bezoeken me in Chennai als ik er ben en wees mijn gast. Ik hou u op de hoogte.

    In de tussentijd kan de Almachtige u zegenen en die u lief is.

    Dank je


    1. Hello T.V. Antony Raj,

      Thank you for reading my blog, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      The responsibility of writing the blog has recently been passed to the volunteers at Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam and taken out of the busy hands of Hanne, as it seems running an NGO, school and theatre company takes up a bit too much time to keep a blog updated. As it was my first (perhaps a bit inexperienced) blog post, I wrote simply about my experience at the school – during my first two weeks in Tamil Nadu, I felt I had neither the knowledge or the right to comment on the cultural issues which surround Kattaikkuttu. I am confident however, my time here, although short, will provide me with the capacity to provide discursive dialogue on the art form of Kattaikkuttu.

      I’m sure it will take time for the various volunteers to build up a regular blog but now that the blogging has begun, many more volunteers will be posting about their experiences, complete with their knowledgeable and experienced, or perhaps newly developed, educative opinions.

      I hope you will keep up to date with our blog in the future, I’m sure you are as excited as we are to see what the next volunteers write about…


      1. Hello Enid,

        I am awaiting to see some constructive articles about your philanthropic endeavors augmented with photographs and videos. I’d be glad to help by reproducing them on my blog if they impress me.

        I wish you all prosperity in your ventures. 🙂


    2. Dear Mr. TV Anthony Raj,

      We have just uploaded some vide-excerpt of the all-night performance of “Kuravanchi” by the Young Professionals Company of the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam. This is one performance among many and, I hope, you will be able to see the vitality and aliveness of Kattaikkuttu from these excerpts. The beautiful pictures which illustrate your article speak of the same.

      Met vriendelijke groet,

      Hanne M. de Bruin-Rajagopal

      PS I still would like to know where you learned Dutch… this remains an undisclosed part of your many interests….


  3. Respected Sir,

    While I thank you for writing about the Therukoothu/Kattaikkuttu theatre which, as you bring out so clearly, deserves wide visibility and much better recognition, I object against labelling it ” a dying theatre form”. Right now -during the Tamil month of Aadi – all-night performances are going on in many different villages all over North Tamil Nadu where the theatre is kept in high esteem. Professional companies – and nobody knows how many there are – perform between 100 and 150 all-night shows during the season. Kattaikkuttu (the name I prefer) is alive and kicking in spite of, or thanks to, the inroads of cinema and television! This is not to say that the life of artists is an easy one. It is high time that they receive support in the form of social benefits (a mediclaim, a pension scheme) and well-paid performance opportunities also outside the rural areas.

    On behalf of the Kattaikkuttu Sangam, an organization of professional Kattaikkuttu performers, and the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam,

    Hanne M. de Bruin-Rajagopal


    1. Hallo Mevr. Hanne M. de Bruin-Rajagopal,

      It is indeed a welcome surprise to see your comment.

      I am glad to know that you have established a gurukulam style school in Punjarasantankal Village, Kanchipuram District, to train Tamil youth in the art of “Theru Koothu.” I appreciate your endeavour to bring a rainbow to the murky dark skies that loom over this art form.

      I, as a Tamil, would prefer to use the term “Theru Koothu” for this art form as it is the phrase that has been used from time immemorial (from the time of “Tamizh sangam”). Your term “Kattaikkuttu” which you prefer is something new; and I (who am 71 years old) have never come across this term before. I feel that this term has been coined by your enthusiastic group; and so, it is your prerogative. But please permit me to make this observation: the term “Kattaikkuttu” transliterates and is pronounced as கட்டைக்குட்டு which pops up the image of a person ‘knocked by a log.’ My humble suggestion is that you change “kuttu” to “koothu” which as I said before is theTamil word used from time immemorial for this art.

      Also in future if you want to use Tamil words to name any of your projects kindly transliterate and spell them in the correct manner, for example கூடம் should be spelled as “Koodam” and not “kudam” which would transliterate and is pronounced as குடம் meaning “vessel.”

      You object to my saying that this is a dying art, which it is, otherwise philanthropists like you would not deem it fit to establish a school in a rural area to revive this art; for which my fellow Tamils and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts and hope many others would come forward and emulate your humanitarian work.

      Another observation I would like to make is that your blog – that was launched in August 2011 (almost a year ago) has just two posts. If you could post educative and constructive articles at least one per week, then you would be able to let others like me know more about your group and what you do to promote the art of “Theru Koothu.”

      May the Almighty bless you and your fellow workers in this humanitarian endewavour and bring your work to excellent fruition.


      Hallo Mevr. Hanne M. de Bruin-Rajagopal,

      Het is inderdaad een welkome verrassing om je reactie te zien.

      Ik ben blij om te weten dat u een gurukulam stijl school die in Punjarasantankal Village, Kanchipuram District, naar Tamil jeugd te trainen in de kunst van het “Theru Koothu.” Ik waardeer uw streven naar een regenboog te brengen aan de duistere donkere luchten die loom over deze kunstvorm.

      Ik, als een Tamil, er de voorkeur aan de term “Theru Koothu” te gebruiken voor deze kunstvorm als het is de uitdrukking die gebruikt is van oudsher (uit de tijd van “Tamizh Sangam”). Uw term “Kattaikkuttu”, die je liever iets nieuws, en ik (wie ben 71 jaar oud) nog nooit tegengekomen deze term voor. Ik heb het gevoel dat deze term is bedacht door uw enthousiaste groep, en zo, het is uw goed recht. Maar kunt u mij toestaat deze opmerking te maken: de term “Kattaikkuttu” transliterates en wordt uitgesproken als கட்டைக்குட்டு die opduikt het beeld van een persoon stoten met een log. ‘ Mijn nederige suggestie is dat je “Kuttu” veranderen in “koothu”, die zoals ik al zei is theTamil woord van oudsher gebruikt voor deze kunst.

      Ook in de toekomst als je wilt Tamil woorden te gebruiken om een ​​van uw projecten vriendelijk translitereren en hen op de juiste manier te spellen naam, bijvoorbeeld கூடம் moet worden gespeld als ‘Koodam “en niet” kudam “die zou translitereren en wordt uitgesproken als குடம் betekenis “schip.”

      U bezwaar heeft tegen mij zeggen dat dit een uitstervende kunst, die het is, anders philathropists als je niet zou achten te monteren op een school te vestigen in arural gebied om deze kunst te doen herleven, waarvoor mijn collega Tamils ​​en ik dank u uit de grond van ons hart en hoop dat veel anderen zouden voren te komen en na te bootsen uw humanitaire werk.

      Een andere observatie ik zou willen maken is dat je blog – dat werd gelanceerd in augustus 2011 (bijna een jaar geleden) slechts twee berichten heeft. Als je zou kunnen plaatsen educatieve en constructieve artikelen minstens een per week, dan ben je in staat zou zijn om anderen te laten als ik meer weten over uw groep en wat je doet om de kunst van het bevorderen “Theru Koothu.”

      Moge de Almachtige u zegenen en uw collega’s in deze humanitaire endewavour en breng uw werk voor een uitstekende bloei.




      1. Dear Mr. TVRaj, Geachte mijnheer TVRaj – excuses voor deze aanspreekvorm,maar ik kan uw ware naam niet ontwaren op de blog.

        I feel honoured with you elaborate response. There’s a lot which need to be discussed (and unfortunately there is not much of an open debate about these issues in urban Tamil Nadu).

        From your blog and the fact that you address me in Dutch I gather that you must be living, or have lived, outside Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, know body knows exactly how alive or dying the art form of Kattaikkuttu is…. no surveys have been done so far and the urban-rural gap does not help to get a better idea of what is happening in villages either. From my observations during the last twenty years I have been living in Kanchipuram I can assure you that the theatre is very much alive. I have been hearing the idea of its extinction ever since I began my research on Kattaikkuttu now twenty-five years ago. If Kattaikkuttu was about to die, it would have done so my now, surely? With professional companies performing 150 shows during the season and remunerations for all-night shows going up I think the image which does exist in the mind of many of Kattaikkuttu, and other folk performing forms, being on the verge of becoming extinct, does not entirey reflect the ground reality.

        As concerns the name of the theatre: there are reasons why we prefer to use the name Kattaikkuttu though I am aware of the fact that this is a contested issue. I have written in quite some detail about this issue, see for instance the article which appeared in Asian Theatre Journal 17, 1 (Spring 2000) “Naming a theatre in Tamil Nadu”.

        As regards transliterations and spelling of Tamil words – again this is a contested issue. As an Indologist I would prefer – and often do – follow the academic conventions of transliteration as laid down in the Tamil Dictionary published by the university of Chennai. This convention would use -ū- (as a diacritic) instead of -oo- (which is a popular media convention) as the Tamil sound. I have used the same spelling without diacritics….. but I do not mind if others prefer another way of spelling. I do not think the issue of spelling does effect in anyway the discussion about what is needed to nurture Kattaikkuttu and make it into a viable and socially respected profession for both men and women. For I do agree that, even though the theatre is alive and kicking, the circumstances under which performers work and the recognition for this unique Tamil theatre should change for the better.

        I would like to use this opportunity also to extend an invitation to come and visit us at the Kuttu Kalai Kudam – we are based about 8 kms outside Kanchipuram. It woudl be lovely to continue this discussion in person!

        With kindest regards,

        Hanne M. de Bruin-Rajagopal


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