Across the river from the Holy Cross Church at Kadalvathuruth — the western edge of Gothuruth Island in North Paravur — lies Moothakunnam with its Shiva Temple founded by Sree Narayana Guru. The view from the church altar is that of the temple.

The Muziris region has always been known for religious harmony and cultural potency. However, by the 1990s the river island of Gothuruth fell in stature, turning into a haven for alcoholics.

Makeshift shacks peddling liquor sprouted all over the small isle with people dropping by even from far-off places to booze. But that is history.

The islanders sought to arrest the trend by forming a ‘Jana Samiti’, which rehabilitated the people involved in the trade and their local clientele. A cultural reclamation of sorts was set off and in a few years’ time, traditional art forms of the region, like Chavittunatakam, began the journey back to their past glory. As the region was slowly waking up to its latent strengths, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) came its way, accelerating the island’s cultural renaissance.

“No doubt, there’s a cultural resurgence under way and Gothuruth is gradually becoming an art village,” confirms Fr. Joby Kallarakkal, vicar of the Holy Cross Church. “Despite having a strong tradition of Chavittunatakam, the ‘kalaris’ (training centres) have never attained the kind of significance they’re receiving now, with the biennale catapulting the art to international fame,” he says.

Word is going around the island on the contributions of the KMB, set to open on December 12, to the fading art of Chavittunatakam. At a memorable event in the courtyard of Holy Cross Church last month, it launched the construction of a creative statue of the founder of Chavittunatakam, Chinna Thambi Annavi. Early this month, it witnessed the opening of a heritage arts festival and the opening ceremony had 60 child artistes from Kerala’s percussion village, Peruvanam, performing alongside as many child artistes of Chavittunatakam.

“Since 1938, the Gothuruth Boat Race is conducted every September on the river (a tributary of the Periyar) dividing Moothakunnam and Kadalvathuruth. A couple of mini boat races have also come up over the last few years,” says Sidhan O.K., general convener of the island’s 80-year-old Sports and Arts Club (SAC), which organises the boat race.

Rising from a tipsy past, the island now houses two well-subscribed Chavittunatakam ‘kalaris’, each with at least 80 trainee artistes, run by Thampy Payyappally and Anirudhan Asan. A third ‘kalari’ with about 30 trainees is in the offing. In association with the SAC, KMB also plans to organise a festival called ‘Chuvadi’ from December 26 to 30 where Chavittunatakam troupes from Alappuzha, Pallipuram, Fort Kochi and Gothuruth will perform, bringing out its regional textual variations. Francis P.J., senior civil police officer and a resident of Gothuruth, maintains that the rise of art on the island in the post-alcoholism era is getting further fillip with KMB throwing its weight behind the unique performing art, a blend of local and Portuguese traditions.

According to T.G. Ashokan, District Panchayat member from Moothakunnam, the island village got an annual cleaning drive followed by a festival following the formation of the Muziris Heritage Society. It is set to get an open air auditorium for year-round Chavittunatakam performances near Kizhakke Pallinada (St. Sebastian’s Church).

“The cultural scene of the region is in for a big change. While Kadalvathuruth will have Chavittunatakam performances, across the river, Moothakunnam may also witness Nangiarkoothu recitals during the biennale,” he says.

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