Koodiyattam gives couple the stage to script history

Koodiyattam is the performance of stories from the epics by a chakyar and nangyar.
Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar and Bhadra P K M.
Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar and Bhadra P K M.(Photo | S Lal)

THRISSUR: Kirathan aka Kattalan (a reincarnation of Shiva) enters, donned in black and wearing a crown with a symbol of the half-moon and lined with peacock feathers, accompanied by Kirathi (a form of Parvathy) in peculiar ‘pacha’ outline with white border make-up. The scene is devised to capture the hearts of spectators, even those not very familiar with the classical art form of koodiyattam.

As Kiratharjuneeyam, choreographed by Ammanur Rajaneesh Chakyar and performed along with his wife Bhadra, gets recognition, the couple is creating waves.

A former software engineer, Rajaneesh decided to immerse himself in Koodiyattam in 2008 to carry on the lineage of legendary performer Ammanur Madhava Chakyar. Rajaneesh is among the brood of rare artists who learnt koodiyattam the traditional way, over a period of 15 years. His passion also led him to take up research. He completed his PhD in koodiyattam from Kerala Kalamandalam in 2023.

Bhadra and Rajaneesh met through the social media platform Orkut. As the friendship grew into a relationship, she had just one condition for marriage: Rajaneesh should teach her koodiyattam. Though Bhadra was born into a family with no professional performance artists, she developed an ardent love for traditional art forms. She received training in percussion instruments from prominent artists, including Mattanur Sankarankutty, and even excelled in thayambaka as a youngster. As studies took centre stage, Bhadra failed to pursue her interests. “The interest in classical art never went away and when Rajaneesh started working on Kiratharjuneeyam, we decided to perform together,” shares Bhadra.

It was while working on his PhD thesis that Rajaneesh came across Kiratharjuneeyam, written by Kodungallur Kunjikuttan Thampuran in Sanskrit. “We had searched for a copy of the text, which was not even available at the Kerala Sahitya Akademi or the Appan Thampuran memorial library. But we were lucky to find one at the library of the Kodungallur kovilakam. For nearly three years, especially during the lockdown, we put out minds to the text, reading it and then compiling whatever was required to come up with a koodiyattam performance,” says Rajaneesh.

While Kiraturjana Vijayam is a popular kathakali recital, it was not generally performed in koodiyattam and was more like an unwritten rule not to bring a character of Kattalan to Koothambalam.

Koodiyattam is the performance of stories from the epics by a chakyar and nangyar. Though Kerala has been blessed with several chakyar (male) and nangyar (female) artists, Rajaneesh and Bhadra, who are based in Irinjalakuda, are probably the only couple to perform together for a recital. Their performance of Kiratharjuneeyam has completed 16 stages, since its debut in 2021. The couple took great effort to understand the Sanskrit text and decide on the costumes. “We had to create an entirely new costume for Kirathan to avoid any resemblance with the character’s portrayal in kathakali,” he added.

“From composing the mizhavu rhythm for the score to deciding the meter and appearance of each character, Kiratharjuneeyam changed our perspective towards koodiyattam as an art form,” says Rajaneesh.

However, the couple are bothered about the declining popularity of koodiyattam.

“Unlike kathakali, it is still the artists and associated people who create the platform for koodiyattam. This should change,” stresses Rajaneesh.

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