Painkulam Rama Chakyar was an outlandish preceptor of Koodiyattam, the only surviving form of Sanskrit theatre, and with a recorded history of more than ten centuries. Strictly adhering to tradition he carried out a major restructuring in Koodiyattam from the spectators’ point of view and according to the requirements of changing time. That a worldwide popularity and prosperities embraced Koodiyattam is only because of his magnanimity towards the renaissance of the art form.
From the late 1950s on, led by the heroic efforts of Painkulam Rama Chakyar to take the form out of the temples and to introduce it to wider audiences, there has been a steady process of secularisation that has witnessed the introduction of a department of Koodiyattam at Kerala Kalamandalam (the state institute of arts), the training of actors and actresses from castes other than the Chakyars and the Nangyars and, the presentation of performances at a variety of venues outside the temples. Kalamandalam became a shelter for him to direct new Koodiyattams, revamp its aesthetic perimeters and give a new dimension in the realm of appreciation.
After the demise of Painkulam Rama Chakyar in 1980, Kerala Kalamandalam and the dept. of Koodiyattam were attentive to patronise the value of Koodiyattam. There is no other institution like Kalamandalam where equal importance is given for both pedagogy and performance. Performing wide across India and abroad and conducting lec-dems for the cognoscenti were the main projects worked out to disseminate Koodiyattam. Rama Chakyar’s disciples such as Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri, Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar, Kalamandalam Girijadevi, Kalamandalam Narayana Chakyar, Kalamandalam Shailaja and Kalamandalam (Margi) Sathi closely follow their mentor’s legacy.
Kerala Kalamandalam deemed to be University, commemorated 33rd death anniversary of Painkulam Rama Chakyar with seminars and performances of Koodiyattam in the Koothambalam (temple theatre) on July 29, 30 and 31. The festival was inaugurated by historian, Dr. M.G.S. Narayanan. His inaugural speech was focused on “the era of Kulasekhara and Koodiyattam”.
Deliberations were centred on Koodiyattams such as ‘Anguliyankam’, ‘Manthrankam’ and ‘Matthavilasam’. These are very rarely performed at public venues. As this art form exists as a ritual and is mostly conducted at temples, that too often at odd hours; the public are not aware of the performance pattern of such Koodiyattams. ‘Anguliyankam’ is the sixth act of the play ‘Ascharyachoodamani’. Hanuman in this play is a character with immense scope of impersonating more than fifty characters. Furthermore, this is a Koodiyattam which gives more importance to gestures. A class on ‘Anguliyankam’ was led by Dr. C.K. Jayanthi, grand daughter of Mani Madhava Chakyar, followed by its performance by Kalamandalam Girijadevi, Painkulam Narayana Chakyar and Kalamandalam Iswaranunni. Curtains fell on the first day with ‘Ashokavanikankam’ Koodiyattam performance by Kalamandalam Sangeeth Chakyar and Kalamandalam Jishnu Prathap.
The third act of Bhasa’s ‘Prathinjayougandharayanam’ which is popularly known as ‘Manthrankam’ Koodiyattam is better known as the touchstone of verbal acting. In this oldest form of Koodiyattam, a folksy retrospective narration of the plot is conspicuous. It is also highly influenced by Kautilya’s Arthasasthra. A class on ‘Manthrankam’ by P.K. Narayanan Nambiar and a performance of abridged ‘Manthrankam’ Koodiyattam by Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar and Kalamandalam Sangeeth Chakyar were veritable treats to the students and connoisseurs. ‘Thoranayudham’ 3rd day Koodiyattam performance by Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri made the second day of the festival a memorable one.
On the third day, Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar dilated how the satirical plot of Mahendra Vikrama Pallava’s ‘Matthavilasam’ is interpreted in Koodiyattam. ‘Matthavilasam’ which once carried religious criticisms was later transformed into a Koodiyattam of ritualistic fervour. The success of this seminar lecture series is that the aficionados were enlightened on these three Koodiyattams of historical relevance. There was also a Thayambaka ensemble on Mizhavu and Maddalam by Kalamandalam Iswaranunni and Kottakkal Radhakrishnan respectively.
The commemoration ceremony was inaugurated by writer, Maadamb Kunjukuttan; K.K. Gopalakrishnan, Director, Centre for Koodiyattom of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Thiruvananthapuram delivered the commemoration speech. Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodirippad, who was a superintendent in Kalamandalam, was honoured for his invaluable contributions to the development of the institution.
Decades before, ‘Bhagavadajjugeeyam’ Koodiyattam, the performance of which lasted for 36 days gained popularity through Chakyar’s hands after he edited it to three and a half hours without affecting the texture of the play. Once, Koodiyattam troupe of Kalamandalam staged 65 performances of ‘Bhagavadajjugeeyaam’ all over Kerala throughout a year. And another significance of this festival was, hitherto, ‘Bhagavadajjugeeyam’, was being performed by the disciples of Rama Chakyar. Here, this play was performed by the second generation of Rama Chakyar’s disciples (Kalamandalam Radhakrishnan, Kalamandalam Krishnendhu, Kalamandalam Sangeeth Chakyar, Kalamandalam Jishnu Prathap, Kalamandalam Charu Agaru, Kalamandalam Prashanthi, Kalamandalam Vijitha and Kalamandalam Ramith) for the first time in a full fledged manner.
The seminars organised this year were the outcome of painstaking efforts of Painkulam Rama Chakyar’s disciples, the new generation followers of the Painkulam tradition and the boundless co-operation of the university. Even though Kerala Kalamandalam commemorates Painkulam Rama Chakyar every year, unfortunately the university has not documented any of his performances. For next academic year, the university is planning to showcase an international event with seminars, workshops, lec-dems and performances of Koodiyattams. No better way to pay homage to the doyen.
You know the Season has truly begun as soon as you open the newspapers on the morning of 1st December and see pages and pages of season schedules staring at you. My opening menu for Season 2013-14 was a book release function followed by a talk on the Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natyam by Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao at the TAG Centre in Alwarpet on 1st December. Dr. Rao and Dr. Yashoda Thakore have translated into English the ‘Nrtta Ratnavali’ of Jayasenapati, a military general of the Kakatiyas. There was a colourful crowd of over 50 dancers – special invitees – who had been assured of a complimentary copy of the book. After tucking in a traditional breakfast (hosted by the ever-generous R.T. Chari) of kesari, idlis, pongal, vadai and coffee, the invitees assembled in the small, cosy hi-tech hall.
The book was released by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam who presented the first two copies to Sudharani Raghupathy and Chitra Visweswaran. A few more copies were handed over to eminent dancers/teachers like Vasanthalakshmi-Narasimhachari, Malavika Sarukkai, Savithri Jagannatha Rao and Kala Ramesh Rao. The book priced at Rs. 1,200 was on sale that day at a special rate of Rs. 600. It was a short and sweet function with crisp speeches as Venugopala Rao conducted the proceedings with an eye on the clock because R.T. Chari is a stickler for time.
‘Nritya Samrachana’, a three-day lec-dem series organised by The Sruti Foundation, Chennai, and Apsaras Arts, Singapore, got off to a start on Monday at the Tattvaloka Auditorium.
Bharatanatyam exponent and guru Sudharani Raghupathy, who inaugurated the series, also presented the first Manna Srinivasan Endowment Scholarship to two students of dance – R. Mala and C. Balachandar, pursuing M. Phil in Bharatanatyam at the Department of Indian Music, University of Madras. Cheques for Rs.10,000 each were presented to the students.
The function was followed by three sessions focusing on solo performance in Bharatanatyam.
Melharmony Day in Wisconsin
Melharmony Day in Wisconsin
Mayor honours Chiravina Ravikiran
November 16, 2013
As a tribute to Chitravina N Ravikiran's concept of Melharmony, the Mayor of the city of Middleton, WI, USA, has decreed the 3rd Saturday of every November as Melharmony Day.
The proclamation came on the eve of the first OVK-Bach Festival, held at Middleton, featuring Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi and Johann Sebastian Bach, two 18th century composers from two different parts of the world.
Marthanda Varma: a brief encounter
By V Ramnarayan
It was 2010, the year of GNB’s centenary. I was one of the speakers at a weeklong commemoration at the Narada Gana Sabha. The chief guest each evening was a former ruler of a princely state in British India (Don’t ask me why).
The evening Prince Marthanda Varma of Travancore spoke at the event, my mother asked me to try and get a private audience with him. “Your grandfather Sivaramakrishna Iyer was his private tutor after he retired as Inspector of Schools at Trivandrum. The maharaja once wrote an appreciation of him in a Malayalam magazine. Maybe he still remembers him,” she told me.
That evening, though I heard a short but scintillating speech by Marthanda Varma, I had no chance to corner him and get a sound byte out of him about my beloved Anna (as we all called our grandfather). But I had an unexpected stroke of luck while having a cup of coffee at the open-air Woodlands café in the compound.
The organizers led by S Vijayaraghavan seated the maharajah on a chair next to me while he waited for his car, and I grabbed the opportunity to ask him if he remembered Sivaramakrishna Iyer. “Of course, I remember him,” he said. “It was his teaching that made a man of me when I was tending to waste my youth.” We chatted for a while about Anna, when Marthanda Varma asked me, “Do you have a photograph of him from that period (the 1920s-30s)?”
When I apologetically answered in the negative, assuming he was asking me for a copy, he hastened to add, “I have a copy. I’ll send it to you.” I then gave him my visiting card, and eagerly awaited the photograph.
At that moment someone approached him and complimented him for the fine speech he made that evening. “That was all because of his grandfather’s teaching,” he said, pointing to me.
The promised photograph never came, but I cannot forget the graciousness of the former maharajah of Travancore.