An artiste with a multidisciplinary bent of mind, Sadanam Harikumar is a performer, playwright and choreographer of Kathakali and a painter, sculptor, musician, musicologist and vaggeyakara, all rolled into one. That apart, he has proved his worth as an able administrator in his capacity as secretary of the Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Ottappalam, of which Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair is the chairman. Founded in 1946 by his father, Sadanam Kumaran, a Gandhian and freedom fighter, the institution also runs harbours the renowned Sadanam Kathakali Academy (established in 1954), which has produced renowned artistes such as Sadanam Krishnankutty and Sadanam Ramankutty, to mention a few. Born in the lineage of Kakkad Karanavar (his great-grandfather), the legendary patron of Kathakali who was instrumental for the birth of Kerala Kalamandalam, Harikumar's foray into Kathakali was but natural. Excerpts from an interview with the veteran artiste…
I donned the ‘kachcha' while in the third standard and my arangettam was while I was in the fifth standard. I was lucky to be groomed by veteran Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair Asan who was at the helm of the Kathakali department at the Sadanam Kathakali Academy. He is perhaps the most resourceful exponent of Kathakali I have ever met. He has had a huge influence on my career. Narippetta Narayanan Namboothiri, Sadanam Vasudevan, Sadanam Balakrishnan and Mattannur Sankarankutty were my classmates. Together, we completed class 10 and also our studies in Kathakali at the Academy.
After completing my pre-degree at N.S.S. College, Ottappalam, I joined Christ College, Irinjalakuda. Those were my halcyon days for I could pursue my interest in Kathakali and Carnatic music with equal enthusiasm. I took lessons in Carnatic music from Sebastian Joseph Bhagavathar who, at that time, was cooling his heels at Irinjalakuda. And my efforts paid rich dividends – I came first in Carnatic music competitions of the University of Calicut youth festival. What made it so spectacular was that I had to compete with students of the Government Music College, Chittoor, who major in music. Also, I stood first in Kathakali, Bharatanatyam and folk dance. And I was selected to perform Kathakali at the International Youth Festival held in Havana, Cuba. There was a total transformation of my personality at Irinjalakuda.
I realised soon afterwards that Kathakali and not Zoology (in which I had graduated) was my forte. A scholarship from Delhi enabled me to train intensively under my guru Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair. I honed my musical skills under C.S. Krishna Iyer during the next four years. I became a graded artiste of All India Radio for Carnatic music and also for Kathakali Sangeetham.
I was lucky to land a job as lecturer in Kathakali at Viswabharati, Kolkata, in 1989. The extent to which Viswabharati motivated my artistic propensity is beyond description. Even as the classes in Kathakali progressed I found myself doing terracotta sculptures, in which I had no training at all. Veteran artist K. G. Subramanyam was amazed at my creations. I also tried my hand at painting. Later on when I was awarded a grant by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi to conduct an exhibition of my sculptures, my joy knew no bounds. I also did a solo exhibition of my paintings at Palakkad Chitrakala Trust.
Back at Sadanam
Due to health reasons, I had to return home in 1995. My post-graduate degree in Malayalam got me the job of a Malayalam teacher at the Sadanam Teachers' Training School. I founded ‘Satwikam' to popularise Kathakali. It took extensive tours of Europe and Japan. In 2005, before my father's demise, I assumed charge as the secretary of the Academy.
New directions in Kathakali and Carnatic music
The singular creative instincts of Keezhpadam Asan had always fascinated me and I always thought of doing something new in Kathakali. I wrote and choreographed the plays ‘Sapamochanam,' ‘Abhimanyu,' ‘Karnaparvam' and ‘Manikantacharitam.' They were well accepted by connoisseurs, especially by those from rural areas. In a temple at Thathamangalam, Palakkad, only my plays were staged for four successive years – a sort of a record. The same was the experience in Japan. I have to my credit a few compositions such as ‘Kavadichinth…' and a few tillanas in ragas such as Darbar, Hindolam, Brindavanasaranga and Huseni. I try to sing them as regularly as possible.