Origin and evolution of Chakyar Koothu

In the first-ever staging of Chakyar Koothu as part of the lec-dems at the Music Academy, noted exponent Rama Chakyar enacted an excerpt from ‘Panchali Swayamvaram.’ His demonstration was highlighted by V. Kaladharan’s collaborative commentary on the origin, evolution and present day dynamics of the art form.

Kaladharan explained that Chakyar Koothu is thought to be an offshoot of Kutiyattam, the most ancient extant form of Sanskrit theatre. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, Chakyar Koothu began to be presented on stage. Initially, Kutiyattam and koothu performances were restricted to the koothambalam. It was Painkulam Raman Chakyar (active years: 1905-1980), a rebel with a cause, who first staged koothu at a function, bringing it to the general public, incurring outrage and earning ostracism. Undeterred, he was instrumental in getting it included in the curriculum of Kalamandalam.

Chakyar koothu accords great importance to the vidushaka (jester/ narrator) and his vachikabhinaya that combines prose and poetry. While Sanskrit slokas are chanted by the main personae and female characters are expected to converse in Prakrit/Manipravalam, the vidushaka is given the licence to speak in the local language, Malayalam, which developed and gained its unique identity in the 16th century, with the devotional poet and linguist Ezhuthachan translating the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Stories from these epics form the core subject of koothu.

The vidushaka’s observations are laced with wit and sarcasm. His expressions are emphatic, while choreography is minimal. He establishes an intimate connect with the audience by evoking laughter, drawing parallels and similes and commenting on current socio-political events, lending an accessible slant to koothu. In toto, the angika, vachika and satvika vocabulary are esoteric and complex.

The episode dwelt upon the reason for Lord Krishna’s presence at Draupadi’s swayamvara. Accompanied on the mizhavu by Kalamandalam Vijay, whose solo percussive prelude heralded Chakyar’s entry, the veteran artiste threw himself into his role of vidushaka with gusto. A lean, spare man carrying a kamandala and arrayed in the distinctive aharya of a gold bordered white costume, topped by a conical red and black hat and, Chakyar performed the preliminary steps. Announcing the names of distinguished monarchs such as Duryodhana, Jarasandha, Sisupala and Karna present at the swayamvara, he welcomed them to the momentous event. He dwelt upon the attributes of Lord Krishna, who is the ‘agama swaroopan’ possessing the six qualities of Bhagavan. Turning to the audience with a knowing smile, he transported them to the scene of action by saying that he knew full well, that even old, grey-haired onlookers had assembled to catch a glimpse of Draupadi’s famed beauty.

At Dwaraka, Balarama asks Krishna why he wishes to attend the swayamvara when he already has multiple wives! And Satyabhama refuses to accompany Krishna as she cannot bear to see him marry another woman. Krishna clarifies that Arjuna, Draupadi’s destined husband, will turn up there as the Pandavas, believed to have perished in the fire, were alive and well.

Among the last Titans of this vibrant tradition, Chakyar expressed his concern about the nuances of the language slowly fading into oblivion and whether he would be able to present performances to dwindling audiences ten years down the line. His energetic portrayal and wry humour combined with the element of inclusivity of the audience, likening them to characters in the story, carried a charm undimmed by age.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 10:39:53 AM |

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