Kavuthuvams
- Mallika Jayanthi, Newcastle, Australia
e-mail: mallikajobs@yahoo.com

June 17, 2008

The existence of Kavuthuvams can be traced back to 17th Century AD.

Kavuthuvam means a hymn. It is usually sung in praise of deities like Nataraaja, Vinayaka etc.
Popular now as an invocatory piece, a Kavuthuvam can be performed in place of a Shabdam.
Traditionally, Kavuthuvams were performed as a part of the daily rituals in temples on special occasions or during festivals. It is said that the devadasis performed Kavuthuvams as the deities were brought in processions.

There are many types or variations in Kavuthuvams.
    a) Kavuthuvams specific to a temple like the Natesa Kavuthuvam on Nataraja of Chidambaram. Madurapuri Sokkar Kavuthuvam is dedicated to Madurai temple.

    b) Kavuthuvams on deities like Vinayaka, Subramanya etc, which do not have mention of any particular temple.

    c) Navasandhi Kavuthuvams on the Gods ruling the nine junctions or directions. The Navasandhi Kavuthuvams were performed in the different sandhis in the temple. This was performed to propitiate the devadas or the deities of different sandhis.
    Brahma (Center)
    Left: chatura
    Right: hamsasya
    Indra (East)
    tripataka both hands, crossed at wrists
      Agni (Southeast)
      Left: langula / kangula
      Right: tripataka
      Yama (South)
      Left: pasha (almost like tamrachuda hasta facing the ceiling)
      Right: suchi
      Nirruthi (Southwest)
      Left: khatva
      Right: shakata
      Varuna (West)
      Left: shikhara
      Right: pataka
      Vaayu (Northwest)
      Left: ardhapataka
      Right: arala
      Kubera (North)
      Left: alapadma
      Right: mushti
      Ehsaana (Northeast)
      Left: simhamukha
      Right: tripataka
      In Bharatarnavam, Eshaana is depicted as Left: mushti, Right: tripataka crossed at wrists.

      d) The Pancha Murthi Kavuthuvams were on Vinayaka, Muruga, Chandikeshwara, Sambandar and Nataraja.

      e) Kavuthuvams on nature like the Vanampadi Kauthuvam.

      f) Kavuthuvams that has mention of Nithya Sumangali or the Rudrakanika on devadasis.

      g) Kavuthuvams on Kings and noblemen. But these came into existence only after the Quartet.


    It is not known how these Kavuthuvams were performed in the olden days. For the readers' information, the structure of present day Kavuthuvam is: First the rhythmic syllables / sollus are recited and then sung. This is interspersed with lyrical passages that are first recited and then sung. It's again ended with sollus or rhythmic syllables.

    Kavuthuvams are not bound by any raga restrictions. Thus a dancer is free to tune them to any raga of his/her choice.

    One doesn't perform ‘sanchaaris' in Kavuthuvams. The focus is on complicated footwork and variations in the movements. Kavuthuvams are performed according to the meaning with ‘thattimettu' and concluded with ‘thattimettu.'

    As an ancient component of classical dance, there are as many Kavuthuvams as there are temples and deities. Many of them are listed in Gangamuthu Pillai's book.

    In a Kavuthuvam, the lyrical passages give the dancer some scope to explore poses and movement variations while the sollus keep the pace and tone of both the dancer and the audience like in Alaripu. Hence, a Kavuthuvam justifies its position as an invocatory piece in a Margam that's not too long and not too short, but just of the right length and pace and crispy enough to keep the audience glued to their seats and look forward with curiosity and interest.

    Navasandhi Kavuthuvams (with inputs by my friend Gokul): Navasandhi Nrithyam used to be performed ages ago in the temples during the annual festivals, as a fervent and dedicated salutation to the presiding deities, enjoins that the deities ruling the different 'Sandhis - directions' (Brahma, Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirudhi, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera and Isaana) must be propitiated before the commencement of temple festivals for their successful conduct and completion. Those propitiatory nine-directional dances (centre, east, south-east, south, south-west, west, north-west, north, north-east) for the concerned deities are composed in rare 'thalas,' based on specific combinations and nritta hastas. Relevant jathis and sahityas seek the blessings of the respective deities. These poses and mudras are specific and are not in vogue in today's dances.

    Dancer Narthaki's one-hour-long 'Navasandhi' dances featured the especial attributes of the nine deities with the stipulated delineations. The word Kavuthuvam comprising letters KA-VU-THA are pertinent pointers to the three goddesses Saraswathi, Mahalakshmi and Parvathi, respectively. The ragas and talas chosen are, Madhyamavathi, tisra ekam: Gurjari, Misra Chaapu: Nattai, Chatusra Jampai: Desaadhi, Chatusra Ekam: Kuntalam, Roopakam: Varaali, Chatusra Ekam: Makuraraamagiri, Roopakam: Malavasri, Tisra Ekam and Malahari, Kanda Ekam which serve to propitiate the particular deity. Narthaki presented this traditional style of dance, philosophy and approach in a highly commendable manner. The related Svarasthanam, Thalam, Pann and Nritta techniques were offered by the danseuse in a manner that enabled the rasikas to appreciate the significance and importance of Navasandhi Kavuthuvam in proper perspective.


    Mallika Jayanti is a Bharatanatyam performer / teacher and a writer. As a student of art, she does a lot of research on theology, mostly Hinduism and dance. This article is based on what she has learnt from her Bangalore based gurus Vijaya Marthanda and Sangeetha, with inputs from her friend Gokul.