TIRUCHY: Therukoothu (street theatre), an ancient folk art that originated from the early Tamil country, is the most popular form of drama in Tamil Nadu and after a gap of two and a half years, these folk art artistes have began taking the street.
Dressing up as deities and performing street plays all night has always been a major highlight during the numerous temple festivals hosted in Tamil month Maasi - Aavani (February - September). However, the outbreak of Covid-19 affected the livelihood of street theatre performers and folklore artistes. With the temples remaining shut and public gatherings banned, it was difficult for these performers to make both ends meet. Several thousands of these artistes across the State were left with no other job but daily wage works.
Now, since the circumstances are limping back to normalcy, the traditional folk art (Therukoothu) has started to be hosted in the temple festivals.
Street play artistes said although people are drawn towards the art, many villagers are still not aware of the new relaxations, affecting the number of their bookings.
Sharing her experience, Rasathi, a senior female-lead drama artiste, said, "Our biggest disappointment was not being able to perform before the people. Had the restrictions been extended for another year, many of us would have given up on the business."
"Last week, happy tears ran down my eyes when I stepped on the stage to perform for the first time in two years. As we started performing the 'Harichandra' play before the audience, their claps took away all the hardships we faced in the past two years," added Rasathi.
Aathimulam, another senior street drama artiste, told TNIE, "The pandemic has taken a major toll on our lives. Without any bookings for performance, many of us were left in a major financial crisis. Thankfully, 2022 brought relief to us. Temple festival organisers across the central region have started hosting street dramas, thus, we have also started getting back to business."
Apart from street drama performers, there are nearly 250 artists and musicians relying on such stage dramas in Tiruchy, said Pannai M P Singara Velan, organiser and drama actor from Tiruchy. "Due to the pandemic, most of us were left clueless. We then took social media platforms to spread awareness about the art form and the artistes and broadcasted devotional stage dramas."
Many village festival organisers are still not sure about hosting street plays. On an average, a street drama team would be performing in about 15 - 20 events per month but presently the numbers remain below ten shows per month. With the whole season up ahead they hope that more street dramas would be organised in the central region, Pannai added.