Kalamandalam Hyderali, who died in a road accident recently, broke the religious barriers attached to Kathakali.
WITH the demise of Kalamandalam Hyderali (59), a chapter in the modern history of Kathakali has come to an end. Hailing from a poor Muslim family, his early life was a struggle until his artistic qualities were recognised. He was at the pinnacle of his career when fate ended it in a tragic road accident on January 5. He was on his way to his alma mater, the Kerala Kalamandalam, where he was a visiting professor after his voluntary retirement from the FACT Kathakali School at Udyogamandal, near Kochi.
As the first Muslim to take up Kathakali, Hyderali always had to fight orthodox social structures and a tradition-bound cultural system. Hyderali was born in a poor Muslim family in Wadakkancherry, Thrissur district in Kerala. He was born to Moidutty, a basket-weaver, and Fathima on October 6, 1946. Moidutty was also an amateur singer in local plays and an exponent of Mappilapattu (Muslim songs). Hyderali inherited his passion for music from his father. He lost his father when he was five. Hearing his music performance at a local function, his oldest brother and a local art aficionado, C.P. Antony, jointly decided to send him to Kerala Kalamandalam to learn music. He was then 11 years old. "None of us knew that I had to study highly Sanskritised Kathakali verses; we thought I could study classical and light music at Kalamandalam ," Hyderali once said about his teenage days. Antony was an inspiration for Hyderali. He even gave a surety of Rs. 2000 at the Kalamandalam to ensure Hyderali's admission. "Being a Muslim, very poor and not good-looking, I was always subject to insults and discrimination at the Kalamandalam, as all others were upper class Hindus. Several times, I thought of leaving the Kalamandalam or even committing suicide, but I remembered Antony and that prevented me from this extreme step," Hyderali had said in almost all his interviews. At the Kalamandalam, he trained under Sivaraman Nair and Neelakandan Nambeeshan. His formal debut was in 1960. Hyderali was deprived of chances to earn stage experience, as Kathakali performances were mostly confined to temple precincts. Being a Muslim, he was forbidden to enter temples. "Many times I longed to just travel with the Kalamandalam troupe. I cannot describe the ordeal I underwent when all my batch mates were in a programme and I had to sit alone at the Kalamandalam for days." This memory always haunted him. Recognising his talent, in 1965, the Chairman of Kerala Kalamandalam, the late M.K.K. Nair, who was also the Chairman of FACT in Udyogamandal, Kochi, appointed him as a faculty member of FACT's Kathakali troupe. With only his inherent talent as his asset, he groomed himself and conquered the heart of Kathakali and music aficionados the world over. In 2002, he took voluntary retirement from FACT.
Only his close friends knew that Hyderali was also a good painter. He drew the portrait of M.K.K. Nair for FACT. He composed a few varnams in Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam styles and provided music for several compositions. He wrote and composed a few krithis in Carnatic music. In his recently published autobiography, Orthal Vismayam (Amazing recollections), Hyderali wrote with feeling, "The two people who helped this destitute Muslim boy were a Christian and a Hindu," duly paying tribute to C.P. Antony and M.K.K. Nair. Through his performance, Hyderali proved that true art transcends religious barriers and went on to create supreme magical ecstasy with his vocal notes. At some temples in central Kerala, the outer walls were demolished to construct a makeshift stage outside the precincts just to accommodate Hyderali for Kathakali performance. He was hailed for his effortlessness in singing both romantic verses in slow tempo as well as highly emotional and dramatic verses. People who heard his "ajita hare" in Sree raga in "Kuchelavritham" never forget his devotional rendering. He had a special fondness for Mali Madhavan Nair's "Karnasapadam", especially "entiha man manase sandeham" in raga Hindolam, as he always identified his own artistic tribulations with the sufferings of Karna. He used the subtle nuances of the gamakas of Carnatic music to communicate the contextual feelings in each Kathakali story. He also did not refrain from adapting some Hindustani tone to add richness to the flavour - all this while strictly limiting his singing within the format of abhinaya sangeetam (music for acting). His partnership with Kalamandalam Gopi and Kottakkal Sivaraman was highly appreciated, as he always emphasised the bhava of music rendition. "I feel I have lost my wings and my expressions won't be as effective as before," said Kalamandalam Gopi. Hyderali's last performance was the night before his death, at Keezhatoor in Perinthalmanna of Malappuram district, for "Nalacharitam" with Gopi as Bahuka. The last verse that he sung was "Kandavarar vidhi dusheelam" (who knows the ways of fate)! True, nobody knew that January 5 would be such a sad day in the history of Kathakali.