This essay attempts to study one important moment of transformation in the performance tradition of premodern Kerala, the southernmost state of India. It analyzes Thullal, a performance form invented by the eighteenth-century poet-performer Kunchan Nambiar, who created a rupture in the Sanskrit literary and performance culture of Kerala. Nambiar, belonging to a temple-serving upper caste, brought together performance meters and modes of lower caste artforms and the content of the Sanskrit Puranas. Nambiar produced three types of Thullal: Ottan, Parayan, and Sheethankan, named after three “polluting” castes that were not allowed in the proximity of temples. This work argues that Thullal performance deliberately challenged existing cultural hierarchies. It attempts to study how power and performance did or did not condition each other.

You do not currently have access to this content.