“Kudiyattam”: Traditional theatre from India

Zukunftskolleg Lecture with Professor David Shulman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

On Wednesday, 15 July 2015 at 17:00, Professor David Shulmann, the Renee Lang Professor for Humanistic Studies, will be talking about the last surviving Sanskrit theatre in the world. The lecture will be held at the University of Konstanz, lecture hall A 704. He was awarded the Zukunftskolleg Lecture by the Zukunftskolleg of the University of Konstanz in the summer term of 2015.

There are still a few actors in Kerala, south-west India, who perform classical Sanskrit theatre, known as “Kudiyattam” (joint performance). Sanskrit denotes the diverse variants of ancient Indian. The oldest known form of Sanskrit survives in the so-called Vedas of Hinduism, a collection of religious texts that were preserved orally. They have been dated to 1200 BC. Classical Sanskrit exists since around 400 BC. The importance of Sanskrit to modern India can be compared to that of Latin to Europe or Hebrew to both ancient and modern Israel.  Numerous religious, philosophical and scientific texts that survive today were written in Sanskrit.

In the past one thousand years, every temple in Kerala housed a dancing pavilion, with Kudiyattam a central part of its religious life. Today, this particular form of performance is one of many on offer in Kerala, which means that Kudiyattam actors are having to fight for the survival of their art.

Thanks to a four-year project funded by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF) entitled “Kudiyattam: Living Sanskrit Theater in the Kerala Tradition”, the Hebrew University has been able to study this traditional form of Indian theatre.  Using film scenes, the lecture in Konstanz will offer insights into the Kudiyattam tradition.

“We are delighted that David Shulman, with whom we have been working closely for many years, will be presenting the results of his study in Konstanz”, says Professor Giovanni Galizia, director of the Zukunftskolleg. David Shulman formerly held the office of director of the Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities and Social Social Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is where the first of many mutual points of contact between the Zukunftskolleg and David Shulman was made.

The Zukunftskolleg is a central, interdisciplinary research facility at the University of Konstanz. Its mandate is to support up-and-coming researchers and it is one of the main pillars of the university’s institutional strategy “The Konstanz Model – Towards a Culture of Creativity” in the framework of the German Excellence Initiative.

Once every semester, the Zukunftskolleg Lecture acknowledges the work of internationally renowned researchers who are closely affiliated with the institution and have been particularly involved in its activities. In a public lecture traditionally held in English, the award winners present their research projects to a wide audience.

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