One of the oldest dance art forms of Tamil Nadu, Thappatam has not entirely lost its sheen for the current generation. This is clear from the rousing reception given to Thappatai performances at several cultural and religions programmes in the city. “The perception that existed among the general public when it came to Thappatam is that, it is only used for death ceremonies. Times have changed and more people, especially students, are showing a keen interest in this art form,” says Adhi Vishnu, a Thappatam artist.
Mastery of this art form takes knowledge, practice, and interest. Adhi says the reason he sought to learn Thappatam 15 years back is that nobody was showing interest in this art form.
“Parents are now requesting us to come to their houses and teach Thappatam to their kids. Many folk arts exist in the forms like Devarattam, Mayilattam, and Silambattam. We analysed that only Thappatam was slowly losing its significance, which is why we started conducting exclusive workshops,” says Adhi.
While tracing the history of Thappatam, Kannan Kumar, a veteran in the field of Thappatam and Devarattam, says, “Thappatai has been used since time immemorial. Its main purpose was to ward off wild animals from the path, when humans used to return late in the night through dense forests. The instrument on which Thappatai is played is known as Thappu and in the olden days, it was made from animal skin.”
Adhi Vishnu also informs that for centuries, Thappatai was used in kingdoms to make announcements to the public. “A man would read out the public notice, before which a person would beat on the Thappu, several times to gather public attention. Overtime, Thappatai performances also accommodated dance if they were announcing a happy news, which would in turn attract more crowd,” adds Adhi.
“I came to Chennai to propagate this art form. Here, I realised that this particular culture is being wrongly taught,” says Kannan Kumar. He attributes it to the business-minded mentality of people rather than the love for art. “I found that in villages, due respect is given to this art and that attitude is absent in the city,” he quips.
“The only way to carry forward the tradition of this folk art form is to incorporate it as a compulsory subject in all schools, just like how yoga classes are treated everywhere,” Adhi concludes....