The Kattaikkuttu Sangam: Academic Education and Theater Arts

I am living in a rural area between three towns. In the mornings, I run to these towns to build a sense of place and to meet local community members. The nearest village of Aiyankarkulam is on a main road where traffic is constant. School and transit busses rumble through blaring baritone horns. Aiyankarkulum is a weaver city and off the main road are homes where open windows offer views of weavers sitting at their looms.


Village of Aiyankarkulum

The village of Kolivakkam is situated off of the main road and has been described to me as a village at the end of a road. I’ve run through the town and found that the road indeed stops at a dry riverbed. Small traffic moves in and out, but not through. I’ve met several people who, over time, have become my friends and served me coffee, popped open coconuts for drinking, and lit off holiday fireworks. It is a place where I can build relationships and become immersed in the community of a rural village.

The village of Kolivakkam.

I’ll return back to describe the Kattaikkuttu Sangam school and how it uses academics with arts.


A short anecdote about how the school began:

When P. Rajagopal was a a child, he was taken out of academics to perform a rural form of theater arts of the Tamil Nadu- Kattaikkuttu. He traveled and performed with his family in all-night Kuttu theater and eventually became an outstanding performer well-known throughout the region. His theater practice took him abroad to Europe where he performed before returning to India to embark on a larger dream. While he enjoyed being a Kattaikkuttu performer, he was saddened that young children were pulled out of academics to perform. He dreamt of creating a school where students study while learning the art of Kattaikkuttu. Along with his wife and my mentor Dr. Hanne M. de Bruin, they worked to build the Kattaikkuttu Sangam organization. Guru P. Rajagopal continues to teach young children and in the illustration above he is presenting a new song to the students.


My illustrations largely focus on the more dramatic theater arts at the school, but I want to make clear that the students are engaged in a long day of academics before they start their Kattaikkuttu practice. The school hosts around fifty students ranging from grades 3-12 who live and study at the school throughout the academic year. In the morning, they bathe, do chores, take a morning class from 7:30-8:30, and then have breakfast consisting of rice, various sauces and sides of vegetables. They take a range of academic classes (maths, sciences, English, social sciences, etc.) throughout the day, breaking for lunch, and finishing at 3:15. At this time, they start their Kuttu theater arts class where they practice their singing, dancing, and performing. They finish at 5 pm where they take an hour break to play volleyball, cricket, draw, or simply relax from a rigorous day of academics and professional theater training. At 6 o’clock they study, eat dinner at 7 o’clock, return to studying and then retire to bed around 9 pm.

I am fortunate to be working in the youth development field with the AIF Fellowship and partnered with the most senior professional students at the Kattaikkuttu Sangam school. They are graduates who have stayed on to continue learning the performance art while teaching to developing students. Beyond being tremendously talented, they support Guru P. Rajagopal’s and Hanne’s dreams of maintaining a thriving and highly professional Kattaikkuttu theater art.

Working with the four professionals I am provided an intimate perspective to the potential and growth of children who pass through this school. In their performances, they emit power, grace, and passion, which bolster the precise skills they have developed over the years of practice.

Working at the school with such a unique blend of academics and arts is a honor. In my next post, I’ll speak about my impressions on the holistic youth development that I believe the school is engaged in as well as where I fit as a development professional occupying this space in the education sector.



Cal is eager to confront challenges and collaborate with the AIF team and individuals at his project site to overcome them. He believes that through this fellowship, he would be able to build the skills and leadership abilities that he can draw upon in a life of national and international civic engagements. Prior to AIF, he was a Peace Corps Volunteer (Mongolia 2013-15) in the Community and Youth Development sector, which provided him experience living in a rural community in an international context. He also has a BA and MA degrees, both in International Development. Cal is excited for the opportunity towards learning about another culture and experience the variety of foods, dances, arts, and lifestyles.

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