Pathiyoor Sankarankutty is a stickler for tradition when it comes to Kathakali music. A native of Pathiyoor in Alappuzha district, Sankarankutty has been carrying forward the legacy of his father, the late Pathiyoor Krishna Pillai, an accomplished Kathakali singer, for more than three decades now. He is currently teaching Kathakali music at Sandarshan Kathakali Vidyalayam, Ambalapuzha. A recipient of the Kerala Kalamandalam award (2009), Sankarankutty speaks about his foray into the field and the present state of Kathakali music.

Excerpts:

Early days in his career

I developed a taste for Kathakali listening to my father. However, I started off as a Kathakali actor. I started learning ‘vesham’ from the age of eight from Evoor Parameswaran Nair and Evoor Sankaran Nair. I even gave a few performances after my arangetram. But once I grew up I realised that I was not cut out to be an actor. I didn’t have the ‘veshapakarcha’ (looking the part). So I concentrated more on my school and college education. It was only after completing my pre-degree that I decided to learn Kathakali music.

Learning Kathakali music

My father identified the singer in me. Once while I was acting a part in ‘Duryodhanavadham’, he made me sing a Kathakali padam, ‘Kim Bho Suyodhana Sakhe…’. After I sang it, he said, ‘Even if you don’t become a Kathakali actor, you can be a singer.’ He had two disciples and I used to sit in class with them. I realised then that maybe I could also take up Kathakali music.

Actually, my father didn’t want me to learn Kathakali music because he felt that I wouldn’t be able to make a living out of it alone. He wanted me to continue my education. However, when he found that I was focussed on learning music, he consulted his guru, Kuttan Pillai, and then got me an admission into RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Tripunithura, for the Ganabhooshanam course.

After that I did a short-term course in Kathakali music from Kerala Kalamandalam where I had the great privilege of learning from stalwarts.

Turning point

Whatever I am today, it is because of one person – Kalamandalam Hyderali. I had accompanied him for a performance at a temple in Kollam and after that he always called me whenever he came to the south of Kerala for performances. He took me under his wing. People often told us that we made a great team. We sang together for nearly 20 years. There were a lot of similarities in our singing styles.

It was because of him that I gained the confidence to sing for stalwarts such as Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Gopi, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair, Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, Madavoor Vasudevan Nair and the like.

As a teacher

Often students come to me to learn Kathakali padams for youth festivals. I’m not totally in favour of this trend because hardly any of them take up Kathakali or Kathakali music seriously after the competition.

On the present state of Kathakali

The duration of performances have come down and it really affects the innate quality of the performance . But on the brighter side, though, the art form is getting global exposure.

Actually, Kathakali draws more of an audience when it is performed abroad. In these instances, the auditorium is almost always full. On that note, there seems to be no decline in the number of Kathakali performances in Kerala. Full-night performances are rare these days and now most organisers start the performances by dusk and finish by midnight so as to ensure enough people in the audience.

All said and done, I’m not apprehensive about the future of Kathakali. A lot of youngsters are coming into it. The best part is that there are plenty of extraordinarily talented singers in the field. I’m totally against comparing them with the stalwarts, though. All of them are equally good.