Koodiyattam festival held at Capital city

via HK correspondent published on December 12, 2005

THIRUVANAMTHAPURAM: The six-day long â€œAscharyachoodamani Mahotsav” held here during the last week of November turned out to be a tame affair with hardly hundred people making it to the Vailopilly Bhavan. Though the sponsors did a good job by providing all necessary support, some of the organizers made it to look like a personal show to highlight their achievements.


The notable feature was the Kathakali performance on November 28 at the expense of Sangeeth Natak Akademy. A CPM worker by name Dr. Venugopal made use of the opportunity to enact the show composed by him and that too at the expense of the Sangeeth Natak Akademi.  This took much sheen off the festival.


“A Koodiyattam festival of this magnitude is being held in the capital city for the first time,”said Sri. Rama Iyer, an office-bearer of Margi, the city-based cultural organization actively involved in the promotion of traditional arts of Kerala like Kathakali and Koodiyattam. “Ascharyachoodamani Mahotsav” was co-sponsored by Margi, Sangeeth Natak Akademy, New Delhi, and the Department of Culture, Government of Kerala.


The Vailoppilly Samskrithi Bhavan Koothambalam saw the great masters of Koodiyattam like Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri (the living legend of this art form), P. K. Narayanan Nambiar, Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar, Kalamandalam Raman Chakyar, and the artists of Margi, Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam, and Kerala Kalamandalam performing to the delight of the connoisseurs.


The festival itself was recognition to the great Hindu heritage. Koodiyattam, till recently confined to the temple premises, have been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. The art form is more than two thousand years old and is the only Sanskrit drama form from Kerala.


The Sangeeth Natak Akademy recognised the great tradition of Koodiyattam in 1991 thanks to the sincere efforts and dedication by late Sri. Appukuttan Nair, founder of Margi. Sri. Nair was an authority on the history and evolution of Koodiyattam and Kathakali.  Usha Mallik, the then Secretary of Sangeeth Natak Akademy and Jayant Kastur, the present Secretary too were really impressed by this graceful art form and extended all support to Nair to get Koodiyattam its dues.    


Koodiyattam has a wide and vast repertoire which remains unstaged and unexplored. Most of the performances centre round the great work “Ascharyachoodamani”, composed by Sakthibhadran, who lived between the seventh and eleventh centuries in Chenneerkara Swarupam in Kunnathur Thaluk. Ascharytachoodamani consists of seven acts and are named Parnasalankam, Surpanakhankam, Mayaseetankam, Jatayuvadhankam, Asokavanikankam and Anguliyankam.   The festival held at  Vailoppilly Koothambalam saw the staging of Parnasalankam Sthapana, Surpanakhakankam, Lalitha Nirvahanam, Maya Seethankam, Jadayu Vadhankam, Asokavanikhankam (Purappadu and Himakaram), Mandodari Nirvahanam, Udyana Pravesham, Anguleeyankam and Agnipraveshankam.


A number of tourists from countries like Denmark, France, Netherlands and UK were present on all the days of the festival. They were really impressed by the graceful movements and “Bhavabhinaya’ of the artists.


Though the artists do not have the aura of glamour associated with that of other art forms, their performance is the result of rigorous training and practice lasting for  four to five years. “Though Koodiyattam is yet to get the publicity which is due to it, the show commands respect all over the world,” said Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri. He recollected his trips to various countries like Germany and France where the audience demanded more and more shows. “Isn’t it a proof of the beauty of the show that the audience made us stage Koodiyattam for four hours non-stop in one of the countries,” Sivan Namboodiri asks.


He is of the view that the art form got a new lease of life once it was moved to the centre stage from the precincts of the temple. Sri. Sasi Kumar, treasurer, Margi and a leading light of the cultural scene of the capital city says that Koodiyattam has all the potential to become a very popular art form. “ Now that Koothambalams are coming all over the state, it is certain that Koodiyattam will hog limelight in the coming days, “ said Sasi Kumar who was instrumental in the production of a documentary film on this art form.


One of the jarring notes during the festival was the attempt by some vested groups to hijack the whole show for their own personal interests. The inaugural ceremony itself was a damp squib with speakers opting to blow their own trumpets.  This was a new experience to the visitors from abroad. “What is there to speak about this much? Are these people Koodiyattam experts? ”, one of the foreigners was heard asking.


The show was preceded by speeches which lasted for hours and many among the audience were seen yawning. “All we should do is to give some sort of running commentary so that the new comers and the tourists could make what  the show is about,” said Sivan Namboodiri.


The fact that people like Usha Mallik, former general secretary of Sangeet Natak Akjdemy, were present throughout the weeklong festival, itself shows the importance of the event. Koodiyattam, Kerala’s own art form, is all set to take the world by storm.  But it was strange to note that the media in the state gave it a raw deal.


Some of the hangers on were seen presenting listless papers like the present scenario of Koodiyattam. Instead of focusing on how to popularize the art form, most of the speakers were seen trying to impress the gathering about their ‘superficial knowledge’. It is said that the tug of war for positions in Kerala Kalamandalam and various other advisory boards have started in right earnest now that elections are around the corner.


The move to infiltrate the Koodiyattam movement by the Christian church was made clear by K. G. Poulose, a  Tripoonithura based individual who claimed that it was the Koothambalams inside the temples which prevented Koodiyattam from reaching out to the global stage. He also tried to prove that Koodiyattam had nothing to do with Hindu heritage. Dr. P. Venugopal’s  paper on the present scenario of Koodiyattam turned out to be an attempt to keep the Communists in good humor. “He is trying to ensure his nomination to Kerala Kalamandalam or Sangeeth Natak Akdemy. There was nothing new or innovative in the so called paper which was a recitation of accounts from books on Koodiyattam,” observed a participant.  

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