The Legacy of Mani Gurukulam

Nov 01, 2017 | Vol 09 | Issue 05
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Surviving Traditions of river Nila-14: Kutiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre tradition of Kerala/India is one of the surviving traditions of River Nila (Bharathapuzha). This feature is about Padmasri Mani Madhava Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam, the training centre for  Kutiyattam and allied art forms, Chakyar Koothu, Nangiar Koothu etc. at Killikkurissimangalam, near Ottappalam in Palakkad district. This institution still keeps its tradition and plays a major role in Kutiyattam training, revival and performances under the aegis of Guru Padmasri P K Narayanan Nambiar.

Kutiyattam of Kerala is the only surviving Sanskrit theatre tradition of India and is considered to be about 2000 years old. Kutiyattam along with the allied art forms Chakyarkoothu, Nangiarkoothu and Padhakam still survive here in its glory, as it practiced by the communities Chakyar and Nambiar, as a religious ritual.  By tradition, the right to perform this is vested with Chakyar and Nambiar, communities associated with the traditional temples. The role of male characters is performed by the Chakyar, while the female part and Thalam players (tiny cymbals) are Nangiar, the female members in the Nambiar community. Nambiars are the drummers on the Mizhavu, the percussion instrument and are also involved with other stage formalities.

In the history of Kutiyattam, the role of Mani family of Chakyar is distinct and Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar (1899- 1990) was instrumental in many revolutionary changes in Kutiyattam.  He started a formal Gurukulam (training centre) in 1982 for training Kutiyattam, Chakyarkoothu, Nangiarkoothu and related art forms at Killikkurissimangalam, near Ottappalam in Palakkad district, irrespective of cast and religion.  Continuing the legacy of Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar, his son Padmasri P K Narayanan Nambiar named the Gurukulam as Padmasri Mani Madhava Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam, which is now commonly known as Mani Gurukulam. This institution still keeps its tradition and plays a major role in Kutiyattam training, revival and performances.

 Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar

Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar was a celebrated performer of Kutiyattam and Chakyarkoothu. He belonged to the Māni family of Chakyars from a village near Quilandy in Kozhikode district, who for centuries have been the custodians of Kutiyattam. He settled at Killikurissimangalam in Palakkad district, after marrying P.K Kunjimalu Nangiaramma, the daughter of his uncle and Guru Mani Parameshwara Chakyar. She was an exponent in lady characters of Kutiyattams as well as in Nangiǎrkoothu. His family had hereditary rights to perform Chakyarkoothu and Kutiyattam in many temples in north and central Kerala. 

 Mani Madhava Chakyar’s act of bringing Kutiyattam and Chayarkoothu to outside the precincts of the temples was revolutionary and later he could perform in many stages in different parts of India. As an authority of Rasa- Abhinaya (the classical Indian acting style) and Natyasastra he has imparted training to many artists in Kathakali and other classical dance forms.

His book Natyakalpadrumam is a comprehensive treatise on Kutiiyattam in Malayalam and deals with all aspects of the art form. Other works of his include Mathavilasam, a branch of Kutiyattam, and stage manual (Aattaprakaram) for the third act of Naganandam and the second and third acts of Shakuntalam. He choreographed and directed acts from the ancient plays by Kalidasa, Bhasa and Harsha.

He was honored with many awards including Padmashri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award by Government of India, Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi and Tulsi Samman by Madhyapradesh Government.

His two sons P K Narayanan Nambiar and P K G Nambiar are the present Gurus of Mani Gurukulam.  P.K. Narayanan Nambiar, P.K.G. Nambiar, Neelakantan Chakyar and Damodara Chakyar (nephews of Mani Madhava Chakyar), Ammannur Kochukuttan Chakyar, Kalamandalam Raman Chakyar, Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri, Kalamandalam Girija, Kalamandalam Shailaja (Koodiyattam), Christopher Birski from Poland and Farley Richmond from America  are some among the well-known  disciples of Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar.

Paanivadathilakan Padmasri P. K. Narayanan Nambiar

 P. K. Narayanan Nambiar, the present Guru and head of the institution of Mani Gurukulam,  is the son of Mani Madhava Chakyar. As per tradition, by following the matriarchal system, he belong to a Nambiar family from Killikurissimangalam, who traditionally been assigned to do the percussion Mizhavu in Kutiyattam and Chakyarkoothu. Narayanan Nambiar learned the drums from Gurus Kochampilli Raman Nambiar and Meledath Govindan Nambiar. At the same time he mastered Kutiyattam from his father.

In 1966, he joined Kerala Kalamandalam, as the trainer of Mizhavu and served until his retirement in 1988. During this period he developed Mizhavu to an instrument of its own identity and introduced orchestrations like Thayambaka, Melam etc in Mizhavu. 

Narayanan Nambiar is also greatly admired for his efforts and contributions in reviving Nangiarkoothu the female aspect of Kutiyattam, a female solo performance. Most of the Nangiarkoothu performances these days follow the performance manual Sreekrishna Charitham Nangiarammakoothu written by Narayanan Nambiar, about two decades ago. Another contribution of Nambiar was the reworked version of Matha Vilasom Prahasanam, a 400-year-old Kutiyattam play, which gave a new style of presentation with more theatrical aspects. 

His brothers P K  G Nambiar and Raghavan Nambiar and sister Amminikutty are performers. Nambiar’s wife Santha Nangiaramma was also a performer in her younger days. He has two sons – Unnikrishnan Nambiar and Hareesh Nambiar, and two daughters –Vasanthi Narayanan and Dr P K Jayanthi, all of them are known artistes.

Considered to be one of the masters of Kutiyattam, in 2008, Nambiar was awarded Padmasri by Government of India. Nambiar who completed 90 years this year is perhaps one of the few contemporary personalities well versed in the practical as well as theoretical aspects of Mizhavu, Kutiyattam and its allied art forms.

The School

Mani Gurukulam is now a  recognized center under Central Sangeet Natak Akademi (Govt. of India), New Delhi, for providing training in Kutiyattam and its allied art forms in various disciplines- acting, percussion, Chutty etc. P K Narayanan Nambiar and P K G Nambiar are the present Gurus of Mani Gurukulam.  The classes are during the evenings and weekends for the convenience of the conventional school going students.  Gurukulam is hopefully looking forward to molding a new generation of artists to uphold the ancient Sanskrit theatre tradition of India.

(To contact Gurukulam, ph: +91- 466 2230543,


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