Saturday, July 19, 2008

The art of Dappankuthu - the famous dance of the Tamilian commoner

What are the images that you would associate with Death? Sadness? Silence? Black? White? Strewn flowers all along the way to the Cemetery? Well...your ideas need a little bit of re-thinking if you're in Tamil Nadu!

This... is the land of the Dappankuthu!

Dappankuthu...or sometimes known as the Dappankoothu is the unofficial dance form of Chennai. And while it may sound weird, this 'funny but disturbingly weird' dance form is employed when a person kicks the bucket in Tamil Nadu.

Since I am not a Tamilian(native of Tamil Nadu), I initially found it a little absurd that here, people could actually rejoice (the principle emotion depicted in this dance form) at the death of a person when elsewhere, death is treated with silence and reverence (tinged with fear). But with the years, I have gradually come to terms that this practice of 'rejoicing' at the demise of a person is not going to change. And if there has to be some change, I would have to be the one who should..change that is!

And so... armed with an feeling interest tinged with indifference (read: I am interested. But hell no! I won't dance!), I decided to do some research on the aspects of this dance form.

And here's what I've come up with:
Dappankuthu - the word can be split into 'Dappa' and 'Kuthu'.
In coloquial Tamil, 'Dappa' means "box" and 'kuthu' means "punch"... So... Dappankuthu would mean "box-punch"? But there is no boxes involved here! You see... Dappankuthu as a dance form depends largely on the percussion instruments that accompany it. And the drums that are used for this purpose are fondly called 'Dappa'. So.... Dappankuthu actually refers to the instruments that lend music to the dance.
Now, the word 'kuthu' shouldn't be mistaken for a punch exactly. Dappankuthu involves very brisk and vigorous steps. And these dance steps are fondly known as 'kuthu'. So, if someone was to pull you into a Dappankuthu performance and asks you to 'kuthu', it would mean that they're not asking you to punch someone. But rather, they want you to dance as well. (punching someone who's doing the dappankuthu will not be a wise thing to do.)

Well... Now that the etymology of the word has been described, let's look into the dance form itself...
The Dappankuthu is a very informal form of dance. And there aren't any strict rules to it, per se. It's always accompanied by racy and fast paced percussion instruments(mostly the Thapattai which is like a tambourine without the jingles). And in this aspect, the dance shares roots with the other famous folk dances like the Kummi and the Kolaattam.
The Dappankuthu can be done by anyone and the steps aren't that hard. But it takes a lot of experience for someone to become a seasoned 'kuthu-artistu'. And since there are no strict rules, the dance can be modified to suit your taste.

Golly! Now try doing that to Salsa and you'll find the whole Salsa-literate populace of the world glaring at you behind fire breathing nostrils and exclaiming "Mon Dios! Este es sacrilegio!"

And if there is even a single soul out there who now wants to take part in the movement that is Dappankuthu, then the following paragraph is for you!
Things you'll need for doing the Dappankuthu:
  • A good quality Lungi. Now... if you were to ask me what a lungi is... well... a lungi is this I mean very colourfully printed piece of sarong that men in south Asia wear. The Lungi forms an integral part of the dance.... as you'll learn soon enough.

  • A pattapatti. A pattapatti is a type of underwear (I sense a PG sign making its way to this post!) that's worn under the lungi. Now, the goons and goondas of Tamil Nadu wear their lungi, folded up at the thighs and tied once more around the waist ( know.... tie it once... take the lower hem and fold it up and tie it again? yeah... that's how!). They make sure that at least an inch of the underlying pattapatti is seen. I don't know if by this, they're trying to say "We're civilized people who wear undies" or if they're trying to appear intimidating. Whatever the case be, it is imperative that the pattapatti be worn and shown! Now... if you were to wear anything other than the pattapatti, believe me, you'll end up in a fairly bad shape by the end of the dance routine.

  • A gaudy tunic or shirt. Well.... not much of an explanation needed ne? The Tunic is known as the Jubba in Tamil Nadu. Just one word of caution. Please try to keep the tunic plain (not patterned). You should never wear a patterned lungi and a patterned tunic together! And if you do, I'd assume you don't know the community dogs of Tamil Nadu that well. They've a good sense of fashion and they'll never tolerate such fashion faux pas in their streets. Yep! It's their streets folks! Deal with it!

  • A hand kerchief... the bigger the better. This is to be wrapped around your neck. An equally famous alternative is to tie this around your wrist or forehead.

Okay... now that you're dressed for the part, it is time to be the dancer. Well... put some hard paced 'dappas' on and grooove! Well... if you're still clueless... you can get a glimpse of what it's like HERE. (And if you want to see how you're most probably going to look like doing it for the first time, please see THIS and compare yourself to the Japanese guy who's doing it to the right.)

There are different types of Dappankuthu apparently. And they are:

Daulat Dappannkuthu : Usually performed along with a straight back with lungi in their hands and with head held high. Performed when there is a victory or when a great man dies or to depict the greatness of the person who will never bow.

Goon Dappankuthu : Usually performed with a hunch back and head held low and lungi tied to the thighs. Performed when there is a defeat or an old lady dies or to show submission.

Bigil Dappankuthu : Usually performed by two members in unison by jumping on their sides, whistling with two fingers in their mouth (known as Bigil). Performed to depict enjoyment.

Thigil Dappankuthu: Usually performed with head looking nowhere and then dropping the lungi down and legs going sideways. Performed in the middle of a dance to make a fast getaway or when police arrives or some big leader comes.

Sorugu dapankuthu: Usually performed crouched with the lungi on the mouth and hands going back and forth and jumping inside. Performed as an act of supremacy.

Tiger Dappankuthu: Usually performed by the person who everybody accepts as the Vathiyar (Teacher - Excellent in kusthi and Silambam) of the area. The attire for this dance requires a tiger mask and tiger stripes all over the body usually with yellow and black paint. This depicts that his strength matches that of a tiger. The tongue sticking out like a tiger is a significant expression of the dance. Most famous cinematic representation is by Kamal Hassan in Apoorva Sahotharargal.

Hmmm... now that you've come to terms with the basics of Dappankuthu, have fun! -_-;;;

P.S. I still cannot believe I actually wrote an article on Dappankuthu! My brazenness knows no bounds!

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