In praise of a Koodiyattom legend
The birth centenary of legendary maestro Paimkulam Rama Chakyar was celebrated with a two-day Koodiyattom festival in Thrissur recently.
THE BIRTH centenary of Guru Paimkulam Rama Chakyar, legendary maestro of Koodiyattam and Chakyarkoothu, who brought these art forms outside the precincts of temples, was celebrated recently. The two-day Koodiyattom festival organised by Thalam Cultural Trust, Thrissur, with the assistance of the Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi, was a welcome gesture. The festival, billed as Paimkulam Rama Chakyar Memorial Koodiyattam Festival, is a befitting tribute to the maestro on the occasion of his birth centenary (2004-05). Interestingly, all his renowned disciples, who are now working as faculty members of Kerala Kalamandalam, participated in paying rich tributes to the maestro.
It was Paimkulam Rama Chakyar, a great visionary of Koodiyattom and Koothu, who brought these art forms outside the temple sanctum for the first time and taught it to members of other communities, amidst strong opposition and protests. He was also the first to give a wider audience for Koothu by taking it outside Kerala and even India. He was the first teacher at the Kalamandalam when Koodiyattom was introduced in 1965. He continued to teach Koodiyattom until his demise in 1980.
In 1949, Rama Chakyar performed Koothu at Thekkekara Illam in Kottarakara. Suspecting the displeasure of his teacher Parameswara (Chachu) Chakyar, Rama Chakyar composed an impromptu sloka that served two purposes: praising both Lord Parameswara and Guru Parameswara simultaneously, and started the historic performance with these verses of praise. The late mizhavu maestro Chathakudam Krishnan Nambiar supported Rama Chakyar and accompanied him as a percussionist. In order to reduce the intensity of criticism, at some point during that period, Rama Chakyar designed a slightly different costume for Koothu while it was presented outside the temple precincts.
Outside the temples
In 1956, Rama Chakyar broke free from the shackles of tradition and performed at a function arranged by All-India Radio in Kozhikode thus earning the ire of the Hindu orthodoxy. In June 1980, on an invitation arranged by the French cultural impresario Milena Salvini, Rama Chakyar lead the Kalamandalam Koodiyattom troupe to Poland and France. The one-month tour aggravated his diabetes. Being a strict vegetarian, he sustained himself on fruit juices during the tour. On July 31, 1980, he passed away, leaving a great legacy behind.
The renowned Sanskrit scholar and one of the chairpersons of the World Sanskrit Conference of 2006 (Edinburgh), Mandakranta Bose, inaugurated the festival. Dr. Bose, Professor Emeritus, University of Vancouver, Canada, considered a world authority on Sanskrit-based theories on dance and text of acting manuals (attarakarms), stressed on the importance of preserving and promoting Koodiyattom, the ancient theatre heritage of the country. Her first interaction with Koodiyattam was in 1968 at the Kerala Kalamandalam. On behalf of Thalam, Dr. Bose honoured Kidangoor Rama Chakyar, recipient of this year's Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi award.
The second day of the festival began with K.R. Narayanan, grand-disciple of Paimkulam Rama Chakyar, entertaining the audience with a few classic stage jokes of the maestro.
The enthralling Koodiyattom performance, `Thoranayudham' and `Balivadham,' by the Kerala Kalamandalam will be long remembered by aficionados. It was Paimkulam Rama Chakyar who gave a symbolic visual appeal to the death of Bali (`Balivadham'). Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar and Sivan Namboodiri were the lead actors on both the days. Iswaran Unni played the mizhavu.
K. K. GOPALAKRISHNAN
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