Ottan Thullal

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Ottan Thullal (or Ottamthullal, Malayalam:ഓട്ടന് തുള്ളല്) is a dance and poetic performance form of Kerala, India. It was introduced in the eighteenth century by Kunchan Nambiar, one of the Prachina Kavithrayam (three famous Malayalam language poets). It is accompanied by a mridangam (a barrel shaped double headed drum) or an idakka (drum and cymbal).


An Ottamthullal performance during a temple festival.

Ottamthullal has its origins in the classical principles of Natya Shastra, a treatise on art originating in the 2nd century B.C. The word Thullal means to jump or leap about in the Malayalam language.[1] Tradition has it that Nambiar, the poet, fell asleep while playing the mizhavu for a Chakyar Koothu performance, inviting ridicule from the chakyar. In response, Nambiar developed Ottamthullal, which parodied prevalent sociopolitical questions and regional prejudices. The chakyar complained about Nambiar's production to the king of Chembakassery. The king banned performances of Ottamthullal from the Ambalapuzha temple complex. Closely related art forms are Seethankan thullal and Parayan thullal. Mathur Panikkar popularized Ottamthullal for modern audiences. Ottamthullal competitions are held[2] and the art form may be used to spread a social message.[3]


In Ottamthullal, a solo performer, with green makeup and a colourful costume (decorated with a long red and white band and painted wooden ornaments), acts and dances while reciting dance (Thullal) (lyrics).[4] A chorus or one artist or more, repeats each sentence as it is completed. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru likened Ottamthullal to a poor man's Kathakali. More recently, Ottamthullal has been performed with a solo female actor and with an ensemble cast.


Nambiar parodies landlords and other prominent citizens. For example, the character of Bhima from the epic the Mahabharata is portrayed as an oaf. Higher castes including Brahmin were not spared.


Ottan thullal was performed in Malayalam which pleased local audiences. Old sayings and elements of folklore were used. In olden days this folk art used to be performed in Telugu language, because the Ottan is essentially a Telugu community.


There may be 64 or more Ottamthullal works. Examples include:

  • Kallyana Sougandhikam (a rare flower), Bhima is searching for the flower and has a long conversation with his older brother, Hanuman.
  • Kiratham, Garudagarva bhangam, Santhanagopalam, Ghoshayathra etc...

Related images[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thullal." Malaylam Resource Centre website. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  2. ^ Nidheesh M. K. "Sunny brothers outshine in Ottamthullal." The New Indian Express. 8 January 2014. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  3. ^ "Spreading the goodness of ayurveda through Kerala's performing art, ottamthullal." Ithoozhiay website. 29 September 2012. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  4. ^ "Ottan thullal". Kerala's 64 Art Forms website. Accessed 27 February 2014.