As an heir to the Ammannur school of Koodiyattam, Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar imbibed the nuances of Koothu and Koodiyattam from Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar and the legendary Ammannur Madhava Chakyar. Along with this traditional method of tutelage in the art form, he concentrated on his academics too. A graduate in chemistry, post-graduate in computer applications and Koodiyattam, and Master of Philosophy in Koodiyattam, Rajaneesh Chakyar is now pursuing his research in Koodiyattam under Dr. K.V. Vasudhevan at Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University. He has also learnt Sanskrit from Dr. Painkulam Parameswara Chakyar. Recipient of Junior Research Fellowship from Ministry of Culture and Young Talent Artist Award of South Zone Cultural Centre, he is now a member of faculty member at Ammannur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam in Irinjalakuda. Rajaneesh has performed widely across India and abroad. In Thrissur, he initiated a venture called ‘Madhavamathrugramam’ in memory of Ammannur Madhava Chakyar. Noted for his humble demeanour he once realised that Koodiyattom is his calling and has stepped recently into direction. As a director, his debut was ‘Gajendramoksham’ and is now working on Bhasa’s ‘Madhyamavyayogam’. He shared his experiences with Friday Review. Excerpts:

Beginning in Koodiyattam

Training in the preliminaries of the art form was under my uncle Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar when I was seven years old. When I received Central Sangeet Nataka Akademi’s scholarship in 1991, Ammannur Madhava Chakyar took over the task. I was in the last batch of six students taught by him. My batch mates were Sooraj Nambiar, Pothiyil Ranjith Chakyar, Aparna Nangiar, Saritha Krishnakumar, and Kapila Venu.

Learning from the thespian

Madhavamman, as I affectionately call him, was a man of perfection. He would not demonstrate what he taught us. He would make us do it. When we did the same in the next class, we had to add something more; otherwise he would scold us. For instance, the movements of the elephant in ‘Ajakarakabhalitham’ segment would be honed day by day by pointing out the mistakes in our perfromance. After that he would tell us to observe an elephant. The basic Koodiyattam plays are ‘Balivadham’, ‘Thoranayudham’, ‘Soorpanakankham’ and ‘Subhadradhananjayam’. He taught us the essential structural intricacies of ‘Balivadham’, such as ‘purappad’ and ‘nirvahanam’ of Sreeraman and ‘purappad’ of Sugreeva; then from ‘Thoranayudham’, it would be purappad and nirvahanam of Sankhukarnan. However, if these solid foundations are mastered, any other elements of the form can be handled very easily. To preserve this cultural legacy for posterity, he tried to transmit to us everything he had acquired through years of practice and performance.

Coping with academics and Koodiyattam

Of course, we had training sessions before and after school.

Our routine consisted of voice exercises for sloka recital, ‘cholliyattom’, ‘kannu sadhakam’ (eye exercises), ‘navarasas’, breathing techniques and learning mudras from ‘Ramayana Samkshepam’. ‘Kannu sadhakam’ was done before sunrise or after sunset. Teaching of Ramayana Samkshepam included all the mudras and eye movements which would make positioning of mudras and expression of eyes intact.

Difference in theatrical ambience at Koodalmanikyam temple in Irinjalakuda and at Vadakkumnathan temple in Thrissur

As far as Koodiyattam is concerned, proximal vision is inevitable. While the proximity can be claimed from any point of the Koothambalam in Irinjalakuda, in Thrissur, notwithstanding the architectural magnanimity of the Koothambalam, some of the pillars on stage itself would hinder such a vision. That can indirectly affect the performer. In comparison, I feel, the audience is more for Koothu at Thrissur and more for Koodiyattam at Irinjalakuda.

Learning with the legend and after

Yes, there is a difference, but we must move on. Indeed, if we have a mentor, we can polish our skills in performance. By far, Madhavamman’s absence is a huge void. Now, my uncle Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar is guiding us now. For an artiste, a higher magnitude of introspection will also help a lot.

As teacher in You’ve taught in National School of Drama

Venu. G has designed the syllabi of Koodiyattam for NSD. Their approach is very serious. We had some students from NSD in our Gurukulam to learn Koodiyattam. Nevertheless, some want it in a quick-learn process. Since Koodiyattam demands a strictly traditional and systematic mode of training, it cannot be given in a package.

Modern theatre and the Koodiyattam artiste

As Koodiyattam possess everything needed for a theatre ensemble, I don’t think there is a need to depend on modern theatre. To analyse how far the play would be a success, a director has to think from audience’s point of view. As a director, I feel the effort is to create a rapport among the audience, performer and director. Some techniques of the textual interpretations and space utilisation could be borrowed to convey the director’s own message.

New projects

‘Gajendramoksham’, my debut production as a director, is a counter-reading on humans’ atrocities towards nature. Upcoming is a project on Sanskrit poet Bhasa’s ‘Madhyamavyayogam’. According to the grammar of Sanskrit theatre, ‘Vyayogam’ means a battle between ‘Dheerodhatha Nayaka’ and another character of the play. But here, Bhasa has relegated Bheema, Hidumba and Ghatolkacha. It is more about the ruling classes’ relegation of commoners. The character of Hidumba is a first of its kind in Koodiyattam and the character has a new design for costume and make-up.

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