Therukoothu – spontaneous street performance?

The September 21 issue of Outlook carries an article by Shruti Ravindran titled Life’s A Proscenium. If you can read this article, and not take offense, then it means one of two things. Either you have an inordinate amount of tolerance for bullshit, or you have no clue what Therukoothu is all about. In the latter case, Shruti is even more responsible for having created an entirely wrong impression of Therukoothu. Before I go on, check out this justifiably angry piece by Sriram.

Sriram quotes a few lines from Shruti’s article that infuriate and disgust.

“Urban denizens who’ve actually heard of this art form often mistake it for its disreputable half-cousin ‘Therukuttu’ (street performance), unpractised, spontaneous roadside performances that take place during temple festivals—and indeed, the word Therukuttu has also come to mean “making a disgraceful spectacle of oneself in public.”

Several things about this sentence infuriate. First, calling an art form a disreputable half-cousin of another is entirely uncalled for. Secondly, Therukoothu, as the name suggests, is indeed played out on the road. In fact, it is at the origins of the three Tamils (Iyal, Isai, Natakam) and is performed on crossroads (naarchandi in Tamil). The fact that an art form is performed on the street does not demean its worth in any way.

In fact, Bharatanatyam, the much-revered classical dance form of Tamil Nadu has its origins in what was called Sadir Attam or Dasiattam – the dance of the Devadasis. This is precisely why dance as an art form was considered demeaning for a woman from a good family to practice until its popularization by Rukmini Devi Arundale. Devadasis, for a certain period were nothing but courtesans (prostitutes to be blunt), and maintained by the Saraboji Rajas of Tanjavur. Does this mean that all Bharatanatyam dancers today are not worth respecting? Also, Therukoothu is by no means unpractised. Practice sessions for Therukoothu stretch over several days, sometimes weeks or months.

If Therukoothu were indeed the disreputable half-cousin Shruti claims it to be, why would there be organized groups, as Sriram so rightly points out, working tirelessly to promote the dying art? For those who need the stamp of “international recognition”, there is even a course on Therukoothu offered by the Singapore National Arts Council. What more do you need?

This article by Shruti Ravindran is nothing more than a piece of shoddy journalism at best. It simply proves, once again, that journalistic standards are at rock bottom today. If Outlook can allow publication of such an article without editing or verification, it makes me wonder what kind of media we have today. I suggest Shruti look for an alternative career, that has nothing to do with either journalism, art or even writing.

5 thoughts on “Therukoothu – spontaneous street performance?

  1. Shruti Ravindran says:

    Oops- premature expostulation, sorry.
    Hi Amrutha,
    Funny, I do remember you from the Alliance Francaise. Thanks for your comments on my feature. Now, while I do concede your and Sriram Natrajan’s criticisms of the all-too-sweeping dismissal of therukuthu in my article (which referred to an essay I read on the subject), I think both of your ad hominem attacks – about the futility of my pursuing this career, and my inability to generate anything else but bullshit etc- are totally uncalled for.

    I am glad you actually bother to read criticism of your piece. If my attacks on your choice of profession were uncalled for, your comments equating Therokoothu with making a disgrace of oneself are even worse. You say you read an essay on the subject. Could you tell me which one exactly? One essay does not make research. You, of all people should be knowing that. As for personal insults and name calling, I am only questioning your worth as a writer and a journalist. Not as a human being. I will not comment on that here, as this is a public forum. But, I honestly feel that by publishing an article as badly researched as this, you did open yourself up to a whole string of criticism, and not just from Sriram and from me.

  2. Shruti Ravindran says:

    One more thing: Your self-description says you “am hyper-sensitive to personal insults and name-calling” — well, then I doubt “journalism, or arts, or even writing”– is the right gig for you.

  3. Shruti Ravindran says:

    One more thing: Your self-description says you are “hyper-sensitive to personal insults and name-calling” — well, then I doubt “journalism, or arts, or even writing”– is the right gig for you.

  4. vishvak saen says:

    am a neutral here.
    2 the author of the blog.- i can understand you slating the article.criticism is fine.but taking it on the author is not that nice.granted this article is a bad and can be termed a mistake.but asking her to look for alternative-i guess the author put some work to get to the point of being published in outlook.hope she learns from the mistake

    about the article-absolute shit.first of all journalism after the basic research work should involve good analysis and a personal opinion.here the research matter is fully faulty(if there is one).it is written by someone who is quite superficial,cant understand therukoothu dapangkoothu and all that comes with the lower strata of life.they choose to ignore that part of the society.if the author belongs to such a band then its disappointing. therrukoothu is the most primitive, spontaneous form of art.from the heart.and in colloquial tamil that all can understand.and from it sprang all these clasical stuff.so to slate it shows pure ignorance.and here ignorance aint bliss.

    2 shruthi r-the words are good.but the thought is real bad.for someone who is writing at that level normal people like us expect better journalism.hopefully your next article is not this bad in its views.you cant rely on essays about things like therukoothu.gota go the and feel it for urself.if u cant and think its stinky or below you please refrain from slating it.

    excuse the length.
    free

    Thanks for that comment. It truly was as neutral as it can get. But I fail to see were the personal remarks are. I am questioning her worth as a writer, as a journalist. There is nothing personal about it. I am not a journalist, nor do I ever intend to become one. About three-quarters of my article speaks of the origins of Koothu. Where exactly have I called Shruti names? Please clarify.

  5. Shruti Ravindran says:

    That passage was a slip-up, I agree. And I regret my mistake. Kattaikoothu is just an alternate label that’s been given to the same artform, as I learned later. But your criticism misses a single, important point: that the article did not intend to get into a debate on nomenclature.
    And except for that paragraph it was an innocuous, human interest story about kids from rural Tamil Nadu who have the opportunity to gain a livelihood in a bleak rural setting. You’re educated and intelligent so I don’t feel the need to point out the personal attacks in your posts. And gee, thanks for restraining yourself from questioning my worth as a human being because this is a public forum.

    Shruti, my intention was certainly not to slander. As long as you are willing to concede there has been a mistake on your part, I am fine with it. As for the personal insults bit, we will agree to disagree. I still stand by my stand that there is NO personal insult whatsoever in this post.

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