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How Does One Study a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”? Ethnographic Reflections on Kerala's Kūtiyāttam

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This article presents issues encountered in ethnographic fieldwork in Kerala, south India, on a tradition of Sanskrit theatre called Kūtiyāttam. Key issues include recent changes in both the audience and performing troupes as Kerala's society has become more egalitarian, and reduced ritual activity by priests. Kūtiyāttam has been transformed from a devotional offering in temples to a cultural performance viewed as an art form. Ethnographic research on this tradition has contributed to international recognition and patronage. In this case, ethnographic fieldwork affects both the researchers and the subjects of their research.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Humanities & Religious Studies, Northern Arizona University Flagstaff;, Email:


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