Koodiyattam performer Indu G. on having her husband and father-in-law as gurus
Indu G. is not only a noted Koodiyattam performer; she has also performed the difficult feat of learning the art under her father-in-law Moozhikkulam Kochukuttanchakiar and her husband Margi Madhu as a young bride. “Actually I got married for Koodiyattam,” she says with an endearing smile, adding, “Still, I am in love with Koodiyattam.” before admitting that the person in question is of consequence too.
Indu performs Nangiar Koothu, which has become known as Koodiyattam as peformed by women, though it is really a portion of the entire performance, as Indu explains. (While male performers are known as Chhakiar, the women are known as Nangiar, from the traditional caste-related vocation.) Koodiyattam has three sections, says Indu: The first is Purappadu. Here, the actor who is to enter first in the play performs a verse, followed by kriyas (movements, or the nritta aspect of dance). The Purappadu may last for two hours.
Next comes the Nirvahanam. This is an elaborate performance using abhinaya that brings the audience (and the actors) up to that stage from where the actual play takes off. A solo actor performs this and is at liberty to take verses and situations from texts other than that of the play proper to elaborate the mood and illustrate the ‘avasthha’ of the main character. This is the primary purpose of Nangiar Koothu.
Today, on the proscenium stage when we see Nangiar Koothu being performed solo, it is usually extracted from the Nirvahanam of some Koodiyattam play.
The third part is the play proper, or Koodiyattam, in which as many characters as are required appear on stage. In this portion, says Indu, no deviation from the text is allowed.
Women characters do not have much scope in the traditional Koodiyattam plays, feels Indu. But this is made up for by the richness of approach afforded by the Nirvahanam. Entire performances are rare, partly because of the time factor, expenses and number of actors. “The full repertoire is only kept up in the institutions,” remarks Indu.
As a young girl, Indu learnt Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam under Kalamandalam Chandrika, who as a student was closely associated with Kalamandalam founder Vallathol Narayana Menon. Despite her passion for the arts, she was not in a position to go to Kalamandalam or Margi to be a full-time artiste. “I was attracted to Koodiyattam after seeing Mani Madhava Chhakiar,” recalls Indu, who would take every opportunity to go to watch Koodiyattam performances.
Her life in the early years of marriage was unlike that of most newly wed girls. Practising under a strict regimen of Koodiyattam, she would then go to college where she was in the midst of her degree. If Madhu was a strict teacher like Ammanur, his father, says Indu, was “very nice”. Moreover, Madhu could easily exit the role of strict or dissatisfied teacher within minutes. “He has a very balanced temperament. After the class he could come out of it and be normal, but for me it was not possible.” When her parents-in-law saw her depressed by a class under Madhu’s exacting eye, they took care to cheer her up and helped with the housework so she could manage her studies and practice.
Indu has no regrets about her decision. “Koodiyattam cannot be learnt through pampering,” she says matter-of-factly.