Mahabharata to Márquez: One family kept an art form alive for six generations

Palani Murugan playing Karnan from Mahabharata in Karna Motcham. S Gowri as Ponnuruvi. Therukoothu that is performed today has a 300-year-old history. Credit: Purisai Duraisami Kannappa Thambiran Parambarai Therukoothu Manram

For at least six generations, the Thambiran family of Purisai village in Tamil Nadu has been the custodian of a traditional theatre art form -- Therukoothu. Purisai -- otherwise famous for the Agatheeswarar temple -- acquired a distinct identity, thanks to this family’s efforts in not just continuing the art form but also infusing modernity into it. All this happened largely because of the work of Kannappa Thambiran, a fourth generation Thambiran, who first introduced harmonium to Therukoothu.

The latest ones to represent the Thambiran family traditions are Kannappa’s son Sambandan and the latter’s son-in-law Palani Murugan.

It is in this small village in Tiruvannamalai district -- around 120 km from Chennai -- that the family runs the 'Purisai Duraisami Kannappa Thambiran Paramparai Therukoothu Mandram’ that is now synonymous with Purisai and Therukkoothu.

Art as an industry

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