Second life for Vilpattu
Artistes of Ragodayam Art Club perform Vilkathamela, a new form of Vilpattu.
Preserving an ancient art form by giving it a new format.
IT WAS a fresh lease of life for Vilpattu, an art form that came from Tamil Nadu in the Sixties. Within a short period of time it attracted enthusiasts in Kerala who began thinking about a local version of the art form.
In its original form, Vilpattu was a temple art form that narrated the story of gods and goddesses and the epics during festivals in Muthumariamman temples.
Stories from the epics
Artistes from Tamil Nadu used to come to Kerala to recite the stories embellished with devotional songs. They found their rhythm on the strings of a long bow, which is still their main musical instrument. Hence the name, Vilpattu. But eventually, interest in Vilpattu waned because of the retelling of the same stories for many years. Moreover, seven days of storytelling in a temple was tedious for the narrator as well as the listener.
Performers of Ragodhayam Arts, Vattappara, were one of the few people who took it upon themselves the effort to bring Vilpattu before the common people in a new format - Vilkathamela.
They have been performing in various parts of the country for the last 25 years.
"We have brought many changes to Vilpattu for long," says Vettinad P.S. Kumar, who is the director and scriptwriter of Ragodhayam. Stories from the epics were replaced by narratives that gave immense importance to social issues. For the first time, a vidhooshaka was added to the seven-member team. His job was to keep the audience in `good humour.'
Kumar says that many clubs have replaced the traditional instruments such as the ghanjira and the ghatam with the organ and other percussion instruments. "But I cannot find any justification for such changes. You have to retain the basic character of an art form."
P.S. Kumar experimented with the art form by giving more importance to the `villan,' whose only work before was to strike the bow string at regular intervals. "He needs to be an acrobat and a good artiste.
He blows fire and dances with ribbons as the story proceeds. There is enough drama and suspense for the audience," says Vijayakumaran Nair, who plays the villan in the performances. The Ragodayam Arts Club also experimented with costumes.
Despite the innovations in the art form, the artistes feel that most people seem to have a condescending attitude towards the art form. "Once they see the performance, the attitude changes. But it is hard to overcome the prejudice," rues Kumar.
Almost all the artistes of Ragodayam have Government jobs. "Otherwise it would have been really tough," says Kumar referring to the financial benefits of performing Vilkathamela.
The guiding spirit behind the venture to revive Vilpattu, Kumar, says that he was inspired by the possibilities of Vilpattu even when he was a child. He presented his first story `Kattathippara,' in school.
With the support of his friends, he was successful in performing many stories like `Naranathu Bhranthan,' `Vanarani' and so on in different parts of Kerala.
He believes that script and music are the most important departments of Vilapattu. "I work on a script for two years and set the songs to different ragas to be included in the Vilkathamela," he says.
Although the artistes of Ragodayam know that it is an uphill task to preserve the art form, they are determined to ensure that the art form does not die out.
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