Chennai and Tamil Nadu
Torch-bearer of a legacy
Photo: K. Pradeep
Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakyar has been at the forefront of training a young group of artistes who continue to practise and popularise Koodiyattam among a new generation of viewers.
Selfless dedication: More than the formal training, what counts is the number of times you watch a performance or hear the slokas, says Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakyar.
If Koodiyattam is alive and vibrant now it is because of the selfless dedication and sacrifice of a few pioneers in this classical art. One of the last links in the chain of this great tradition is Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakyar.
A brilliant performer and great teacher, Kochukuttan Chakyar, whose 80th birthday will be celebrated with great fanfare in his native village of Moozhikulam on May 25 and 26, has also made immense contributions in framing the ‘attaprakaram’ or acting methods for various plays.
Small built, with bright, piercing eyes, Kochukuttan Chakyar has always been the unheralded actor, content to live in the shadow of his more ‘popular’ contemporaries. Talk to him and he constantly dwells on legends like Chachu Chakyar or Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, never about himself.
Despite Koodiyattam’s new-found popularity, especially after Unesco declared it as one of the masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity, Kochukuttan Chakyar firmly considers this art form as a kind of ritualistic worship.
“Right from ancient times Koodiyattam has been traditionally staged in temples. It is ‘natyayajna,’ performed with devotion to propitiate the deity by strictly observing certain religious rituals. There was a time when a male child in a Chakyar family had to go through his ‘arangettam,’ along with 16 other traditional rites. Temples used to give land and the right to perform to specific families. One reason for the decline of the art form was the land reforms act that took away the land from the temples leaving the Chakyar families with nothing to fall back on. Even today there are temples in Kerala that have ‘adiyantarakoothu’ every year, while many have discontinued the practice.”
Polishing the art
Unlike many others, Kochukuttan Chakyar did not learn from one guru. In fact, right to the age of 40, he kept polishing the art that he had picked up from various masters of the time.
“The Ammannur family, to which I belong, originally settled down at Moozhikulam, after migrating from Koppam, near Pattambi. Later, a branch of the family moved to Irinjalakuda. I was then left with the responsibility of conducting the regular performance at the Moozhikulam temple. That was when I had very little experience. I used to walk to Annamanada every morning, study under Painkulam Narayana Chakyar who was there, then walk back and perform what I had studied.”
Persistence and single-minded determination to master the art took Kochukuttan Chakyar to various masters. He trained under Ammannur Chachu Chakyar, Kidangoor Narayanan Chakyar, Painkulam Rama Chakyar, Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, and Mani Madhava Chakyar. He is perhaps the only artiste who has imbibed the different styles prevalent in Koodiyattam.
“Kallenkara Narayana Pisharody and Kodassery Kochunni Kartha were two scholars who taught me Sanskrit. They taught me in verse, which I had to adapt suitably for prabandam and also for the vachikabhinaya when playing the Vidushaka. More than all the formal training you get, ultimately what counts is the number of times you watch a performance or hear the slokas and how it is propounded. There is nothing to beat that sort of an experience.”
Kochukuttan Chakyar was much sought after for his Vidushaka roles and also for Prabandha Koothu. He remembers some of his roles with the masters, especially with Ammannur Madhava Chakyar in ‘Soorpanakam.’ Despite the presence of the greats, Kochukuttan Chakyar still holds a special place among connoisseurs of the art form for his witty improvisations, fluent narration and thorough knowledge of the subject in Prabandha Koothu.
The 20 years he spent in Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, as resident guru, was perhaps the most fruitful period in his long career. He was responsible for bringing back on the stage several acts of plays like ‘Mayasitankam,’ ‘Agnipravesankam,’ ‘Parnasalankam,’ of ‘Ascharyachudamani and second act of ‘Dhananjayam.’
Many of the leading Koodiyattam artistes like Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar, Margi Madhu, Margi Narayanan (both Kochukuttan Chakyar’s sons), Margi Raman, Margi Sathi, Margi Usha and Pothiyil Narayana Chakyar, were all Kochukuttan Chakyar’s disciples at Margi.
“There was a gurukulam system prevalent at Margi. This system is important because a student needs to work on all that he has studied every day. It is like polishing a weapon, keeping it ready, not allowing it to rust. Even when I was teaching at Margi, I used to perform the ‘adiyantarakoothu’ at the Moozhikulam Temple.”
A recipient of this year’s Padma Shri, Kalamandalam, State and Central Sangeeta Natak Akademi awards, Kochukuttan Chakyar considers all the honours as a recognition for the ‘struggle, pain and labour’ to keep Koodiyattam alive.
Send this article to Friends by
Chennai and Tamil Nadu