Chitrakathi: Tale of the Clever Monkey

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Published on: 17 August 2018

M.D. Muthukumaraswamy

M.D. Muthukumaraswamy is a Tamil writer, Director of National Folklore Support Centre, Chennai, and a Consultant at Sahapedia.


Drawn by the Chitrakathi painter Eknath, the folk tale of the clever monkey tells the story of a monkey accidentally bringing fire from heaven to the earth. The Chitrakathi storytelling situations demand an intimate setting where the listeners sit around the storyteller, who narrates his tales with the aid of pictures. The pictures function no more than helping the listeners to visualize the story situations and characters since the telling relies mostly on the oral dramatics of the narration. Unlike the Greek myth of Prometheus bringing fire from the gods to the earth and thereby earning the wrath of the gods, the Chithrakathi story of a monkey accidentally bringing the 'most shining object' to the earth refers to the random and chance nature of the invention. The monkey's reluctance to part with the fire and the people adopting a trick to get the fire from the hands of the monkey further amplifies the nature of sharing. Being true to the Chitrakathi tradition of picture making where even long epics are depicted in fewer paintings, Eknath tells the story of the clever monkey in a limited set of paintings that would demand the oral narration as an accompaniment. Eknath focuses on the actions of the monkey and divides the story into four main actions.