Keeping an art form alive
A group of artistes in Tirupathur have been performing and teaching ‘Theru Koothu’ for years.
With menacing moustaches, heavy make-up, colourful dresses and a handful dressed as female mythological characters, a few men wait behind a stage to perform at Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s public meeting in Tirupathur on Wednesday. Around them stand a group of children, looking at their attire with curiosity.
The men are construction workers from Mookuner Pudur in Tirupathur district who earn a living by performing Theru Koothu (street play). They also teach the traditional art form free of cost to interested students.
Among them is S. Tamil Arasu, a 37-year-old vaathiyar (teacher) of the Theru Koothu troupe, Gokula Kannan Nataka Sabha in Mookanur Pudhur near Pudupettai in Tirupathur district. He works at a construction site to make ends meet.
“This is the first performance for a political party this year. We perform plays like Mahabharatha, Ramayana, Kanda Puranam, Shiva Puranam and other mythological plays. Sometimes, the parties ask us to give a political angle to the play, sometimes they ask us to just give a dance performance to keep the audience occupied,” says Mr. Tamil Arasu, who has been teaching the art form for the past 18 years.
A minimum of eight persons perform in a play. “Each of us get at least ₹1,000 per play and after our expenses, we save ₹500. We pool in this amount to pay stipends to students who come to learn the art form from us. We don’t charge the students anything,” he says.
He adds that many college students from Tirupathur are now coming forward to learn the art from his school. “After March, we get many bookings for temple festivals. During COVID-19 we suffered a lot,” says R. Pandithurai, another troupe member who was dressed as a female mythological character.
The troupe members feel that it would be great if the government extends some help for them. “Our earnings are spent on transport itself. We are doing this to keep a traditional art form from dying,” says Mr. Tamil Arasu before getting on to the stage dressed as a character from Mahabarata.
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