Incomparable Eloquence

V KALADHARAN | Jul 02, 2021

In the history of the renaissance of Kutiyattam, Padmashri Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri is till date the most trusted flag-bearer of the style systematized, preserved and promoted by his alma mater, Kerala Kalamandalam. The world outside came to realize the intrinsic qualities of Kutiyattam when Sivan Namboodiri presented before them heroes and villains from the great Indian Epics.

Traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the temple castes, Chakyars, the Nambiars and their women, Kutiyattam, the sole extant form of the highly evolved Sanskrit Theatre heritage of India, was confined to the Kuttambalams (Natyagriha/temple-theatre) until 1965. The late Painkulam Rama Chakyar, the doyen of Kuttu and Kutiyattam, was a rebel with a cause in his community. He boldly took up the task of opening a faculty for Kutiyattam at the Kerala Kalamandalam incurring the wrath of the conservatives within his community and outside. The journey of Kutiyattam from an esoteric space to the public sphere provided a secular dimension to the art form. Since then, cutting across the barriers of religion, community, caste, language and geography, any aspirant, if he/she hasthe taste and inclination, is free to join the institution and study Kutiyattam. Kalamandalam Sivan Namboodiri enrolled himself as a student in the institution. He is undoubtedly the first non-Chakyar artiste in the field to win recognition as an accomplished actor. Sivan is still a flame in the highly stylized classical drama.

Onstage Charisma    

Endowed with an expressive face and a striking appearance, Sivan Namboodiri has succeeded in creating a definite imprint in the minds of the Prekshakas in the presentation of a wide variety of characters. His Arjuna in the Subhadradhananjayam play is a classic example. Without knowing that the damsel he rescued from the demon, Alamboosa, is none other than Subhadra, a visibly awestruck Arjuna looks at Subhadra from head to foot. As Arjuna, Sivan Namboodiri’s panchangamaatal (brief portrayal of the Nayika’s hair, eyes, face, breast and feet) is simply spell-binding. His expression of the Sringararasa is spectacular yet temperate, a feature intrinsic to the characterizations in Kutiyattam. In contrast, Sivan Namboodiri as Ravana in the play, Jatayuvadhom, is veerarasa (heroism) incarnate. His Ravana recollecting the fierce confrontation the demon-king had with the Ashtadigwajas (eight-elephants guarding the eight directions) leaving stains on his chest is picturesque.

The role which brought Sivan Namboodiri encomiums from far and near is his Ravana in the play, Thoranyudhom. After defeating Vaishravana, Ravana is on his way back to Lanka in Pushpaka, the aerial chariot. Mountain Kailasa intercepts the chariot on its way. An enraged Ravana disembarks from the chariot and dares to take on the Mountain. He hits it with all his might and slowly lifts it up with his hands and throws it to the sky. The Kailasodharanam (lifting of the mountain Kailasa) is followed by Paravathiviraham (Goddess Parvathi’s separation from her Lord). While the former shows Sivan Namboodiri at the height of Veerarasa, the latter is a dialogue between Lord Siva and his consort Parvathi taking place at Kailasa. Having come to know that her husband had dalliance with goddess Ganga, Parvathi grows suspicious and asks him several questions the answers to which fail miserably to satisfy her. Convinced that Lord Siva has cheated her, Parvathi sets off to her father, Himavan’s abode, holding the hands of her Sakhis. At that very moment, the mountain trembles violently. A petrified Parvathi comes back to the loving embrace of Lord Siva. Sivan Namboodiri’s pakarnnattam (one and the same actor enacting multiple roles) here as Lord Siva and Parvathy is highly evocative. The building up of the sorrow of Parvathi against a vacillating Siva and its culmination becomes poignant as Sivan Namboodiri switches from one role to the other with dramatic overtones. The enactment of the famed Shloka, MaulaukimnuMahesha?, is quite demanding. It is invested with a wide range of expressions. Sivan Namboodiri, the unparalleled thespian, visualizes it spontaneously.

The world outside came to realize the intrinsic qualities of Kutiyattam when Sivan Namboodiri presented before them heroes and villains from the great Indian Epics. In the slow-tempo movements and expressions, he invited the attention of the avid spectators to the mindscape of characters like Arjuna, Ravana and Bali. In the 1980’s theatre-enthusiasts in Europe especially those in France and in the US marvelled at the subtleties with which Sivan Namboodiri explored the dominant traits of these characters.  His Sanyasi in the farce, Bhagavadajjukam of Bodhayana too is remarkable as he effortlessly switches from detachment to sensuality (remember his Parakaayapravesham as the courtesan) and back as the narration progresses.

Offstage Demeanour           

As a person, Sivan Namboodiri is emotional, humble and kind-hearted. He knows about his strength and weaknesses much better than anyone else. Heroes and anti-heroes are his forte in Kutiyattam. Never did he show the audacity to do the role of Vidooshakas. He is also reluctant to do Chakyarkuthu for which one needs to be a reservoir of Shlokas and anecdotes besides being witty and sarcastic. As an art form Kutiyattam calls for constant self-evaluation and renewal from its practitioners. Here again Sivan Namboodiri is an exception. He is not very keen to explore beyond what he has learnt already. He comfortably rests on his laurels.At the same time he doesn’t nurse any grievance against anybody.

In the history of the renaissance of Kutiyattam, Sivan Namboodiri is till date the most trusted flag-bearer of the style systematized, preserved and promoted by his alma mater, Kerala Kalamandalam. This is an honour the gifted actor values as the most precious of all that he has achieved in life so far.

(The author V Kaladharan is the former Deputy Registrar of Kerala Kalamandalam and an art critic, who has published several articles on Indian performing arts and literature in many magazines and journals.)

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