Ammannoor Madhava Chakyar

Guru Ammannoor Madhava Chakyar passed away on 1st July at the age of 92. The grand old master of Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu was the last of a grand old trio of the art. The others were the late guru-s Paimkulam Rama Chakyar and Mani Madhava Chakyar. Ammannoor was groomed in the rigid gurukula tradition by his maternal uncle Guru Ammannoor Chachu Chakyar, one of the great artists of the last century. At his maiden performance at the age of 11, at the Tirumandhamkunnu temple in Malappuram district, he played the sootradhara in the play Balacharitam. The first major role he did was Rama in the play Soorpanakhankam, at the Koodalmanikyam temple in Irinjalakuda (Trissoor). During his formative years, he also trained under a few other masters like Kidangoor Rama Chakyar and the scholars of the Kodungalloor (Cranganore) royal family, not far from his abode at Irinjalakuda. Ammannoor was a total traditionalist. When his cousin Paimkulam Rama Chakyar (1904-1980) revolutionarily brought Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam outside the temple precincts, Ammannoor refrained from supporting Paimkulam’s efforts. Similarly when Paimkulam took the art to Poland and France for the first time in 1980, Ammannoor did not appreciate the move. His approach gradually changed in the 1980s when he began to accept performance engagements outside temple precincts. He later became the number one ambassador of the art abroad. His association with G. Venu, a theatre activist turned Koodiyattam impresario, was a turning point. Ammannoor was fortunate enough to enjoy the fruits of the dreams and ordeals of Paimkulam and Mani Madhava Chakyar (1899- 1990), his senior contemporaries. Nevertheless, till his last breath, he did not approve of persons from other communities performing at the koothambalam-s (traditional theatre attached with temples). Ravana, Bali and Arjuna were among Ammannoor’s celebrated hero portrayals. Kailasodharanam (lifting of Mount Kailasa by Ravana), which he performed innumerable times over six decades, gave Koodiyattam aficionados of four generations an experience to cherish for their lifetime. His Soorpanakha was another memorable role. Ammannoor was hailed for his impromptu humour that made clever use of the artistic freedom of the Chakyars on stage. Sometimes he did not spare even the VVIPs in the front row. Like other traditional artists of Kerala, Ammannoor too was deprived of proper recognition in his home state, even at the peak of his career. Later when he received laurels from abroad, the organizers and cultural heads of Kerala vied with one another to invite him for inauguration ceremonies. Recalling this he used to joke, “Lighting the lamp was never my profession, but of late all are inviting me only for this!” On stage, Ammannoor never worried about the size of the audience. The traditional lamp kept in front of the stage and the light from its three wicks were enough for him. He saw the presence of divinity in it; thus each performance was a dignified ritual for him. Ammannoor choreographed and performed the death scene of Bali in such a way that it depicted all the different kinds of breathing during death. He took almost an hour for this climax using the techniques of ‘swara vayu’ that he had mastered, learning it from Kodungalloor Kunjunny Tampuran. Theatre critics, especially from the West, extolled this part with their own interpretations of the minute details of the last breaths. Connoisseurs in Kerala, however, were in favor of the choreography of this scene by the late Paimkulam — who presented it in a few minutes. The debate on the length and duration of these moments of death on the Koodiyattam stage still continues in Kerala. For a few years before advanced age compelled him to retire completely from teaching and performing, Ammannoor had restricted his activity to lecture demonstrations. His lecdem on the role of Sugreeva in Balivadham is famous. For a brief stint, Ammannoor served at the Kerala Kalamandalam and at the Margi, Tiruvanantapuram, as a Koodiyattam teacher. His main centre of activity was the Ammannoor Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam, a centre he dedicated to the memory of his mentor. Ammannoor Kuttan Chakyar, his nephew, and Usha Nangiar are his acclaimed senior disciples. Ammannoor was born on 13 May 1917 to Vellarappilli Madasseri manakkal Parameswaran Namboodiri and Ammannoor Sreedevi Illodamma. Among the honors he received were the Padma Vibhushan, the Kalidas Samman of the Madhya Pradesh Government, and the State and Central Sangeet Natak Akademi awards and fellowships. He was married to Paukutty Nangiaramma, who died on 25 July, just weeks after her husband. The couple had no children.



[A cover story on Ammannoor Madhava Chakyar was published in Sruti 216 (Sept. 2002)]