The dramatic language of Ottanthullal

Sruti Magazine Editor V Ramnarayan honouring gurus Sitarama Sarma and Indra Rajan. Also present (from left) K. Ayyanar, director, ICCR, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s director K. N. Ramaswamy and Natyacharya V P Dhananjayan.  

Kalasagara, Kavalappara, honoured the memory of its founder, Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval, a Kathakali percussion maestro who introduced the ‘speaking drum’ style of playing the chenda, with a function in which they felicitated gurus Bhagavatula Sitarama Sarma, disciple of Rukmini Devi, and an accomplished musician, composer, and nattuvanar, and Indra Rajan, Bharatanatyam exponent, teacher and nattuvangam artist.

The felicitation was followed by a 75-minute Ottanthullal performance by Krishnapurath Murali.

Ottanthullal is a relatively lesser-known art form from Kerala. It was created by the 18th century poet and mizhavu percussionist Kunchan Nambiar, who was angered by a Chakiyar Koothu artist’s rebuke for having dozed off during a performance.

Being colloquial, it is supposed to have drawn people away from Chakiyar Koothu.

Both are, however, based on the Puranas and have inbuilt humour in their presentation.

While the Chakiyar can deviate from the Sanskrit script for explanations and tongue-in-cheek comments on socio-political issues in Malayalam, Ottanthullal has humour in the Malayalam script itself. Melodramatic acting may add to the entertainment value.

The 64 stories in the Ottanthullal repertoire have been written by Nambiar. Incidentally, the training and gestures are the same as Kathakali’s.

With green paint on his face and a colourful costume, the Ottanthullal artist leads the music; the chorus sitting behind follows, repeating the line two-three times. They are accompanied by a mridangam and an edakka.

Krishnapurath Murali, disciple of Guru Kongad Achyuta Pisharody, along with Sashi Pisharody Chunangad and Haripriya (vocal), K.P. Ravi (edakka) and Kodagara Hari Narayanan (mridangam) presented ‘Garuda Garva Bhangam,’ a story of how Krishna squashed Garuda’s and Rukmini’s pride. Krishna sends Garuda, his mount, on an errand to invite Hanuman to Dwaraka.

The dramatic language was one of the highlights of the presentation. Garuda addressing Hanuman disrespectfully, ‘Nokkada mootha kurangna…’ and Hanuman scoffing at Garuda’s arrogance, ‘Anthaga mooda ninnuda jeshtan oru anthagan alle Suryanum sarathi theru thelichu nadakkum ippol aarum iga ariyadil iga Garuda?’ roughly meaning, ‘Fool! all know who you are.., do not brag!’

Krishnapurath Murali's portrayals captured the story descriptively. He added just enough melodrama to augment the entertainment value and his diction was also clear.

It was a well-coordinated presentation. The only discordant note came from the young singer, whose pitch did not match singer Sashi Pisharody’s. A pity there were so few to see this artistry.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 8:26:19 PM |

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