Author(s)Kurien, Elizabeth Mani
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Abstract<italic>Kutiyattam</italic>, practiced in Kerala, India, is the only living Sanskrit dance-theater tradition today. In 2001, UNESCO declared the art form as "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." This dissertation examines the impact of <italic>Kutiyattam's</italic> universalization as "intangible heritage" on the localized artistic practice. Drawing from dance studies and media studies literature to analyze interviews with <italic>Kutiyattam</italic> practitioners as well as <italic>Kutiyattam's<italic/> performances during field work in Kerala, this study presents <italic>Kutiyattam</italic> as an arena of multi-sided contestations. Intellectual Property Rights operate within a racialized system of "universalization" where, in addition, gendered and casticized privileges are negotiated. <italic>Kutiyattam</italic> practitioners currently live these entanglements that affect their citizenship status within the Indian nation-state. Fieldwork at various locations in Kerala, including Irinjalakkuda, Chathakkudam, Moozhikkulam, Tripunithura, and Ambalapuzha, have enabled me to highlight local practitioners' and scholars' viewpoints regarding <italic>Kutiyattam's</italic> history and historiography. Observing live performances, both on stage and during practice sessions, I focus on corporeal renderings of different formats of <italic>Kutiyattam</italic>, including <italic>Nangiarkoothu</italic> (solo female theater), <italic>Cakyarkoothu</italic> (male solo verbal performances), and <italic>Kutiyattam</italic> (combined danced-acting of multiple performers). Via fieldwork and interviews, I found that universalization of this local practice differentially narrows, rather than broadens access to archived materials of <italic>Kutiyattam</italic>. In fact, international clients and caste-specific performers are favored, while limiting the local non-caste performers' access to <italic>Kutiyattam</italic> sources. I then examine how the media intervene in specific ways to shape the modern and "traditional" Indian ideal citizen via the female performer of <italic>Kutiyattam</italic>, affecting the value of women's cultural labor and their culturally specific performing rights through paradoxical intertwines of caste and gender. Finally, I examine how the (visual) "difference" of the material dancing body of <italic>Kutiyattam</italic> negotiates and is subjectified in the racialization process as <italic>Kutiyattam</italic> circulates globally as "universal" heritage. Ultimately, this dissertation shows how transnationalism intervenes in disarticulating <italic>Kutiyattam's</italic> cultural symbolism from its cultural danced labor, a process in which the nation- state plays a conciliatory role, allowing to gloss over the bodies that labor for <italic>Kutiyattam's</italic> upkeep, thus revealing processes of state-fundamentalism and neo-orientalism.