An inscription on the West wall of the garbhagrha of the Gomuktesvara temple, Thiruvavaduturai, Mayuram Taluk is of great interest to students South Indian dramas. The inscription is dated in the 9th regnal year of the Chola emperor, Rajaraja I, corresponding to 5th October, 995 A.D. The village assembly of Sattanur, in Tenkarai Tiraimurnadu, met in the "Catus salai ambalam" and created a nibandha as "Nritta-bhoga" land for performing dance drama. The endowment was made in favour Kumaram Srikantan, a Cakkaiyar, who was in enjoyment of "Cakai Kani" the land earmarked for Cakkai, of the village. This was intended for enacting an Aryakkuttu in seven acts in the Purattasi (nakshtra) festival, in the month Purattasi, celebrated for the Lord of Thiruvavaduturai. The dance was to be enacted annually in perpectuity. Two pieces of land were earmarked for this purpose one consisted of 12 ma of land, which was a "Cakkai Veli" at Vaduga-mangudi. This land was already under enjoyment, as service tenure for performing dance in the month of Purattasi. The second piece of land, measuring 15 ma, was situated in Naruppai village. Both the land, put together, measuring one Veli and seven Ma, were made Nrittabhoga. The dancers were free to raise crop of their choice and enjoy the proceeds and in turn, enact dance in the festival. The land was not saleable.
The record says that on the first day of the sprouting ceremony in the Purattasi festival, the nataka should be announced during that night and the seven acts performed. The relevant portion reads "Purattasi Thirunalil thirumulai-nanru ira (natts) Natakam Colli, Varavittu elu angam aduvatahavum". Colli Varavidel i.e. announcement equal unto "Purvaranga" of the Natya sastra. It is not clear from the epigraph, whether the Netaka in seven acts should be enacted on the same day or performed for a number of days till the festival lasted.
The next part of the inscription is equally interesting, as it refers to the provisions made for the dance drama. It prescribes two measures of rice per day for making rice powder, three betel nets- two bundles of betel leaves and one Uri of oil for preparing collyrium (or black pigments) and one nali of turmeric. Those who were in charge administering the festival on the respective day, should measure these materials in the stipulated quantity to the temple treasury. Rice powder (white), turmeric (yellow) black pigments, betel nuts (brown) and betel leaves (green) were obviously used for colouring the face and body suited to the character. It is interesting to note the ingredients used for colours one thousand years ago and in perhaps the earliest authentic record for such a usage.
The village assembly made this a tax free land and instituted this Nibandha as Nritta-bhoga to the Lord in perpetuity and gifted it to Cakkiyar, Kumaran Srikantan. The endowment was made by the mahasabha of Sattanur. While refering to the Nataka, the deed interestingly calls it "Aryakkuttu elu angam" i.e. the seven acts of Aryakkuttu, from which it is clear that the Cakkiyars were enacting Aryakkuttu in Temples of Tamilnad and that they formed part of village establishment seen by the term "nammur cakkai kani udaiya" i.e. one who enjoys the Cakkai Kani of our village.
The inscription makes it clear that what was intended to be enacted in the festival was a Nataka in seven acts. "Natakam Colli Varavittu elu angam ada". However the endowment is called Nritta bhogam obviously the term Nritta here is employed in a general sense of dance-drama.
That the dance drama is called Aryakkuttu also deserve notice. The Aryar were prforming dance in the Tamil country even from the sangam age the beginning of the common era. In later years a group of singers who used to sing and dance were called araiyar. A verse in Kurunthokai refers to the vigorous beat of the Parai drum, when the Aryas danced on the rope fastened to a pole. This refers to the male members dancing on rope. The sangam works like Narrinai (95), Ahananuru (378) and Kurinji Pattu refers to dancing girls called adumahal were dancing to the accompaniment of musical instruments on ropes fastened to poles.
The Tamil epic Silappadikaram, refers to two kinds of dance, Iruvahai Kuttu, Aryakkuttu and Tamil kuttu. The Ary here indicate taking up a mythical story, abridging it to suit the enactment of the kuttu dance drama. It is evident that Aryakkuttu, does not necessarily mean, only the acrobatic dance like rope dance but also included refined dance, based on Sanskrit language and lore. The inscription of Rajaraja under discussion states clearly that the Nataka, in seven acts performed in the temple of Thiruvavaduturai was called Aryakkuttu.
The other point of interest in this record is that this dance drama was enacted by a Cakkaiyar. A family of dancers in Kerala who enact Kudiyattam in temples are called Cakkiyars. Their dance is called Cakkiyar Kuttu. They enact Sanskrit dramas mainly making profuse use of Malayalam language. Many of the famous sanskrit dramas of ancient India, like those of Bhasa, Mahendravarman and others were enacted by them and a number of them are being enacted to this day. For example the Mattavilasa Prahasana of Mahendra is enacted in temples as offerings on festival occassions even to this day. The Cakkiyar tradition in Kerala traced to remote antiquity by historians is considered a special form of Kerala art. The dance drama enacted in the Thiruvavaduturai temple in the time of Rajaraja, was also an Aryakkuttu, performed by a Cakkiyar. In all probability this dance drama was in Sanskrit intervowen with Tamil.
It may be mentioned that several dancers were employed by Rajaraja Chola, to perform dance and also dramas in the great temple of Tanjore when be built it. Among them were included four players of Nataka - One was a Cakkiyar - named Thiruvellarai Cakkai alias Maraikkattu Ganapathi. His name indicates that he hailed from Maraikkadu, the modern Vedaranyam in Tanjore district.
That sanskrit dramas were enacted in other temples of Tamilnadu, during the chola period, is attested by two inscriptions dated in the reign of Rajendra chola I. Both the inscriptions come from the Sivalokanatha temple, Kiranur, Nannilam Taluk, Tanjore District. The first one (1022 A.D.) records a gift of land to Marudur Cakkai alias Parsmesvaran Sri Kannan, for enacting dramas during festivals. He received seventy kalams of paddy annually at the rate of ten Kalams per day of performance. Obviously his dance drama lasted for seven days.
The other record refers to the enactment of a Cakkai Kuttu in five acts. This was also enacted during festivals. This provision was made by Kalyana Mahadevi, the queen of Rajendra Chola I, probably in the 21st year of his reign (1033 a.d.). The mention of the dance drama as Cakkai Kuttu, and the name of the dancer as Marudur Cakkai, deserve special attention. From the inscription of Rajaraja I discussed earlier, it is seen that the dance drama enacted by Cakkaiyar was called Aryakkuttu. This indicates that Sanskrit dramas enacted in the temples of Tamilnadu were called Aryakkuttu or Cakkaik-Kuttu and that they were enacted by Cakkiyar dancers. The Cakkiyar Kuttu now considered an exclusive Kerala form of dance (from which the Katha Kali is derived) was prevelant in Tamilnad, from the Sangam age to the mediaeval times.