Veteran Kathakali artiste Kottakkal Sivaraman, who died last night at his home at Karalmanna in Palakkad last night, was an actor who brought feminine grace to the male-dominated Kathakali theatre through his sterling portrayal of a wide range of epic women.

Whether it was charming and vivacious Damayanthi in the story of star-crossed King Nala or the emotionally charged Kunthi, who at an agonizing phase in her life meets her long-discarded son Karna, Sivaraman brought a distinct touch to whatever roles he was cast in.

In a career spanning five decades, Sivaraman had been largely instrumental in giving equal prominence to women characters in Kathakali plays. He chose to do the female roles at a time when only those who excelled in presenting heroes or anti-heroes won recognition as maestros relegating the female roles to minor players or budding actors.

Though it was by chance that Sivaraman was cast in a female role for the first time, he soon realised theatrical potential of such characters and his own talent to present them gracefully.

According to Kathakali connoisseurs, Sivaraman was best known for his role as princess Damayanthi in ‘Nalacharitha’, a four-part play which movingly portrays the vicissitudes in the life of King Nala and his consort, an episode taken from the Mahabharath.

The play by Unnayi Warrier, traditionally staged in four nights, had elements of romance and tragedy mingled in it. As the central character destined to be the victim of cruel and blind fate, Damayanthi’s role was always seen as a challenge by actors. But the versatile artist in Sivaraman excelled in the role bringing all its emotional appeal to the audience.

Sivaraman teamed up with veteran actor Kalamandalam Gopi in presenting Nalacharitham on hundreds of stages with the duo acquiring the status of glamorous stage pairs in the reckoning of Kathakali fans.

“It was always an unforgettable experience to do the hero to Sivarman’s heroine.Whatever be the role he was cast in, he could plumb the emotional depths of them and present most touchingly,” Gopi said.

Sivaraman, 74, was born in a family which had produced leading artists. He had his initial lessons from his uncle and veteran classicist Vazhengada Kunju Nair. For long, he was a lead player at the PSV Natyasangham, repertoire sponsored by leading ayurvedic institution Kottakkal Aryavaidyasala.

A recepient of several honours, Kerala Government last year bestowed a unique award on Sivaraman -- Stree Ratna of the stage (Women jewel of the stage) -- in recognition of his unique contribution as a male actor who excelled in female roles.