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Ottamthullal (or Ottanthullal, Malayalam:ഓട്ടന്‍ തുള്ളല്‍, pronounced [oːʈːamt̪uɭːal]), is an art form Kerala state, India. It was introduced in the 1700s by Kunchan Nambiar, one of the Prachina Kavithrayam (three famous Malayalam language poets). It is accompanied by a mridangam or an idakka (drum and cymbal).[1][2]


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 Tamil language.[3] 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[4] and the art form may be used to spread a social message.[5]


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).[6] 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.


Ottamthullal was performed in Malayalam which pleased local audiences. Old sayings and elements of folklore were used. The satirical nature of the works invited artists to improvise. The rhythm of the language varied from the simple to the rare and complex. Examples of the lines include:

"Embranalpam kattubujichal," (If the chief of the temple steal and eat a little,)
"Ambalavasikalokke kakkum." (All the dependents of the temple will steal.)


"Asanaksharamonnu pizhachal" (If teacher commits one mistake,)
"Ambathettu pizhakkum sishyanu." (the student will commit fifty-eight mistakes.)


There may be forty 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.
  • Thottodunna, parody of the Nair army (Nayar pada).


Proponents of Ottamthullal have included: Malabar Raman Nair, Evoor Damodaran Nair, Cannanore P. S. Nair, Divakaran Nair, C. S. and Neelakanta Pillai. Contemporary artists include Kandamandalam Sharmila[7] and Tharamakudy Karunakaran[8] Children may learn to perform Ottamthullal.[9]

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  1. ^ "Ottam thullal." Kalatharangini Kathakali School, Cheruthuruthy, Kerala website. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  2. ^ "Ottamthullal." Cochin Cultural Centre, Kerala. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  3. ^ "Thullal." Malaylam Resource Centre website. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  4. ^ Nidheesh M. K. "Sunny brothers outshine in Ottamthullal." The New Indian Express. 8 January 2014. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  5. ^ "Spreading the goodness of ayurveda through Kerala's performing art, ottamthullal." Ithoozhiay website. 29 September 2012. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  6. ^ "Ottan thullal". Kerala's 64 Art Forms website. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  7. ^ "Ottamthullal." The Hindu 16 February 2013. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  8. ^ "Tharamakudy Karunakaran." Thiraseela performaing arts industry website. Accessed 27 February 2014.
  9. ^ Kumar K. K. E. "Eight year old twins turn ottamthullal experts." Deccan Chronicle 12 September 2013. Accessed 27 February 2014.