Among the classical performing arts of Kerala, Thullal is distinct for its simplicity of presentation, wit and humour. It follows the classical principles of Natyasasthra (a treatise on art compiled in the 2nd century B.C). Ottanthullal is the most popular among its three varieties. The other two are Seethankan and Parayan Thullal. Thullal is a solo performance combining dance and recitation. Staged during temple festivals, the performer explicates the verses through expressive gestures. Themes are based on mythological stories. Humour, satire and social criticism are the hallmarks of this art form. The Thullal dancer is accompanied by a singer who repeats the verses. The orchestra consists of the Mridangam or the Thoppi Maddalam and a pair of cymbals.
Thullal was introduced in the 18th century by the famous Malayalam poet Kunchan Nambiar (1705 – 1770). A satirist, he is the man who brought literary wit and humour within the ken of common man. His innovative satiric art form Ottanthullal reflected his deep sense of social responsibility. Witticism and anecdotes from the life of this genius have become part of the lores and legends of the State.
There is an interesting story about the origin of the Thullal. Nambiar, who used to play the Mizhavu, (a percussion instrument) during Koothu performances, was once caught napping during a performance and the annoyed Koothu player sent him off the stage. To get his own back, the insulted young man created the new art form overnight and presented it himself the next evening. The audience were thrilled. However this story has been debated by scholar ever since, who believe that it is impractical to create a new art form Thullal overnight.
The Costume: The make up, though simple, is very much akin to that of Kathakali. The actor wears a long tape of white and red coloured clothes looped around the waist-string to form a knee-long skirt. The chest-piece is adorned by various coloured beads, glass and tinsel, and other ornaments. The face is painted green, the lips, red and the eyes emphasised with black paint. The headgear is colourful and richly decorated