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Iyer education

Chakyar Rajan spreads the message through Chakyar Koothu, Kerala's inimitable art form



Rajan in full regalia

IMAGINE GETTING up on stage, letting off steam on various issues, throwing in an insult or two at the audience, and getting accolades at the end of it all. When K.K. Rajendran, popularly known as Chakyar Rajan, puts on his make-up, he has the liberty to poke fun at people and rave and rant at the ills plaguing our society, even as the excuse is narrating episodes from our mythology. That is what a Chakyar does, though Rajan does it with a twist. While traditionally, Chakyars interpret the Sanskrit texts in Malayalam, Rajan ad-libs in Malayalam, English, Tamil, and Hindi, depending on the audience. This is not surprising at all, considering Rajan is the first TamBram - he's an Iyer - to stray into Chakyar country.

As a child in Thrissur, Kerala's cultural hub, Rajan would bunk classes to watch Chakyar Koothu at the famous Vadakkunathan Temple. Seeing the youngster's enthusiasm, Painkulam Rama Chakyar took a shine to him, calling him his Ekalavya, and presented him with a mizhavu, the percussion instrument used during the performance. Rajan could not go onstage initially as a non-Chakyar performing the Koothu was unprecedented. However, he seized the moment when a troupe, invited to perform in Mumbai where he lives and works (he is a cost accountant and a consultant) didn't turn up. He went onstage without make-up, and saved the day.

The going was tough initially, because the texts were difficult to come by, being the preserve of Chakyars. But his single-mindedness paid off. He located some with R.S. Vadyar Publications while some were given by the scholar, Anjam Madhavan Namboodiri.


Towards the late Sixties, his interest took a spiritual turn and he studied the Bhagavatham seriously. To date, this 71-year-old has given over 1,200 performances in India, the Gulf, United Kingdom, and Israel. He is a bit cut up about being denied a visa to the United States recently.

The inspiration to perform in English came from Swami Chinmayananda, and Tamil, from Haridasa Swamigal. "This is how I can communicate with people. Today's generation, especially those who live outside Kerala, cannot follow the old Malayalam."

His performances deal with issues ranging from casteism to cricket's shenanigans. But he steers clear of "filthy politics" as it is dicey. "Even the same political party has several groups." He also doesn't do "Namboodiri humour" (a Kerala version of Sardarji jokes). "I have to be careful about the mixture in the audiences. I talk about education, lack of faith, consumerism, and so on." He is conscious of the fact that his audience is the urban elite, representing a multiplicity of religions, ethnicity, and languages. Most of the jokes are his own and there is much improvisation.

He believes that traditional Chakyars are out of step with the times and hence are in danger of losing their audience. "Both their intonation and vocabulary cannot be understood by outstation Malayalis."

Watching his performance at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan last week, it was clear he is not into some serious butt kicking. Perhaps our audiences are not ready for that yet.

Rajan offers to conduct workshops on his art. He can be contacted at chakyarrajan@hotmail.com or chakyarrajan@yahoo.com. Alternatively, you can contact his daughter, dancer Padmaja Suresh, who lives in Bangalore, at padmajasuresh@hotmail.com or padmajasuresh@mailcity.com. You can call her on 3369004.

SUGANDHI RAVINDRANATHAN

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