Painkulam Tradition of Kutiyattam

May 01, 2016 | Vol 8; Issue 2
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Surviving Traditions of River Nila- 9

There are many folk communities, traditional artists and artisans who have been living on the shores of River Nila (Bharathapuzha) since centuries. This issue features about the Chakyar community from Painkulam, who for generations is practicing Kutiyattam and Koothu, the ancient Sanskrit theatre tradition of Kerala/India.


Painkulam, a small village near Cheruthuruthi, in Thrissur district is synonymous with the ancient Sanskrit theatre tradition Kutiyattam. Many members from the Chakyar family of Koyappa Chakyar Madhom in Painkulam are famous artists in Kutiyattam/ Chakyarkoothu. It was the late Painkulam Raman Chakyar of this family, a visionary and maestro of Kutiyattam, who was instrumental in reforming Kutiyattam to equip to meet the challenges of the present.  The legacy of Painkulam tradition of Kutiyattam is associated with Painkulam Raman Chakyar.

Kutiyattam is one of the oldest surviving art forms in the world.  Even though the Sanskrit theatre tradition of India has over 2000 years of history, in Kerala, the Sankskrit theatre Kutiyattam was developed during the time of the King Kulashekhara in 11th century AD, with its own identity. By 14th century Kutiyattam had to be performed solely in the temples and it survived as a ritual.

The other art forms developed from this art are Koothu, Nangiarkoothu and Padakam. In temples the act of Kutiyattam and Koothu (solo performance with storytelling) are assigned to a specific community called Chakyar. The supporting instruments for this performance are Mizhavu (an urn like percussion instrument) and Kuzhithalam (a pair of tiny bell- metal cymbals). The percussionists are from the community Nambiar and the cymbals played by Nangiar, the women members of Nambiar community.  Nangiarkoothu and the female roles in Kutiyattam are acted by Nangiar. Padakam, storytelling is also done by the Nambiar.  Due to the political and social scenario during and after independence of India, like all other traditional arts, Kutiyattam had also declined drastically. And many members from these communities had migrated to different areas in search of their livelihood.

Painkulam Raman Chakyar (1905-1980)

Born in the traditional Kutiyattam/Koothu performing family, he was trained under the great Guru Ammannur Chachu Chakyar of Irinjalakkuda. Later he was known for the revolutionary act of taking Koothu and Kutiyattam to the stages outside the traditional temple precincts and giving training to more artists irrespective of cast and religion. It was in 1949 at Thekkekara Illam near Cherupoika of Kottarakkara in Kollam district that he performed Koothu outside the temple premise, for the first time and staged Kutiyattam in 1956 for All India Radio, Kozhikode.

 In 1965 Kerala Kalamandalam (now a deemed University) introduced a centre for training Kutiyattam under the aegis of Raman Chakyar.  The famous Kutiyattam artists of the present, Kalamandalam Raman Chakyar, his grand nephew and Padmasree Kalamandalam Sivan Nambuthiri, the first non- Chakyar student in Kutiyattam, were his first batch of students. Kalamandalam Raman Chakyar, his grand nephew, says “Painkulam Raman Chakyar face lifted the performance of  Kutiyattam as a whole by carrying out attractive changes in costuming, synchronizing the  beats of Mizhavu in tune with the performance and also reducing the duration of the play drastically by editing it without losing the traditional values and aesthetic elements.”

Other known disciples of Raman Chakyar are Painkulam Narayanan Chakyar another grand nephew of Painkulam Raman Chakyar, Kalamandalam Girija, Kalamandalam Shylaja and Kalamandalam Sathi (Margi Sathi). In 1980 just before his demise, he led a Kutiyattam team to the European countries Poland and France.

Painkulam Damodaran Chakyar

Painkulam Damodaran Chakyar is a well known performer of Koothu (During his formative years he performed Kutiyattam too, but since 1970 basically Koothu). For him, the learning of these art forms was quite a natural process as a traditional profession. So he was trained under his uncle the great, Painkulam Raman Chakyar, when he was residing at their ancestral home at Painkulam. He has performed Koothu in many temples as part of the ritual. Later he got opportunity to perform in many other stages in India. During the European trip of his uncle Painkulam Raman Chakyar, he also joined along with the Kalamandalam team. Some of the recognition includes the Kerala Kalamandalam Award (2004), Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award (2006) and the prestigious Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2012).

Since three years he is not performing and now resides near Chathamkudam temple at Vallachira, in Thrissur Dt,. Kalamandalam Raman Chakyar and Painkulam Narayanan Chakyar are his nephews.

Kalamandalam Raman Chakyar

Raman Chakyar was born in 1950 as the grand nephew of the legendary Painkulam Raman Chakyar. He is the son of Ammannur Parameswara Chakyar and grandson of Ammannur Chachu Chakyar. As per the direction from his great uncle Painkulam Raman Chakyar, he joined in the first batch of Kutiyattam at Kalamandalam and attained the training from his great uncle and also from Kidangoor Raman Chakyar and Ammannur Madhava Chakyar.  Later he served the same institution as trainer and performer.

He participated in many festivals in India and abroad and has conducted workshops on Kutiyattam at several universities in Europe and the United States. Among other honours, he received the Kerala Kalamandalam Award (2007), the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award (2008) and Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2010) and State's biggest honour to a performing artist, the Nritya-Natya Puraskar. Now he resides at Cherppu near Peruvanam temple in Thrissur.

His famous portrayals include Kaundinya in the 'Subhadradhananjayam' play, Saandilya in the profoundly fascinating farce 'Bhagavaddajjukam', Soorpanakha in 'Soorpanakhangam' and Jatayu in 'Jatayuvadham'; Sugreeva of Balivadham is his acclaimed role.  Most of today's Kutiyattam performers are either his disciples or disciples' disciples.

Painkulam Narayanan Chakyar

He was also trained in Kalamandalam under his great uncle Painkulam Raman Chakyar and his disciples such as Kalamandalam Raman Chakyar.  Even in the poor socio-economic situations he could also survive as an artist by assisting his uncle Damodaran Chakyar in Koothu performances in many temples, which are held annually, as a ritual. Even now he is continuing the duties of a traditional Chakyar, assigned by his uncle.

He is also associating with the School level art festivals for the last 25 years. Every year he gives training to an average of 200 students from different schools in Kerala for the competitive performances in Kutiyattam, Chakyar Koothu, Nangiar Koothu and Padakam.

In 1991 Narayanan Chakyar established 'Painkulam Ramachakyar Memorial Kalapeedom', a training and performing centre for Kutiyattam, dedicated to his great uncle. The centre functions at Painkulam in his ancestral land and he resides in a house adjacent to it.  The first batch of students include his nephews Jayadevan, Rahul and niece Anamika. He has choreographed 'Attaprakaram' (performance manual) for 'Ancham Ankam' of Bhasa's 'Swapnavasavadattam' and 'Pancharatram Gograhanankam'. Narayanan Chakyar, aged 57 is the recipient of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi award ( 2009) and Kerala Kalamandalam Award(2015).

Even though the performing members from the Koyappa Chakyar community are less, the tradition of Kutiyattam and its allied performing arts like Koothu, Nangiarkoothu etc will flourish through their disciples in Kerala Kalamandalam and outside.

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