Kerala Chavittu Nataka Academy
TARGET: To document the cultural legacy of Chavittu Natakam and to promote it as one of the unique theatre art forms of Kerala.
ORIGIN: Though Chavittu Natakam is believed to have originated in areas near Fort Kochi, it was resurrected, and is flourishing, in areas like Gothuruthu, thanks to the efforts of the art loving commoners of this nondescript village. And today, Gothuruthu houses the Kerala Chavittu Nadaka Academy, an institution exclusively for the promotion of this theatre form. Established in 2005 Chavittu Nataka Academy came into being with a view to revive, sustain and strengthen the centuries-old art form. Today, the Academy has 75 members and those interested can join the outfit. The annual membership is a nominal Rs.100.
“It was one Mr. Chummar from an affluent family of the region who was first drawn to Chavittu Natakam. Guru Chinnathambi Annavi, a playwright of the 17th century who wrote several plays was brought to Gothuruthu and adjoining areas to popularise the art form. Annavi was brought to Pallippuram first and then to Gothuruthu,” says Ajithkumar Gothuruthu, chairman of the Academy.
ACTIVITIES: The Academy has staged around 1000 performances since its launchand today, Chavittu Natakam is performed at all places, both public and private, religious and non-religious. The art form has generously incorporated elements of Kalarippayattu, opera, Tamil folklore music and biblical themes to derive a distinctive style of its own. Among the contemporaries who worked selflessly to promote Chavittu Natakam, the name of Sebina Rafi, the wife of writer Ponjhikkara Rafi needs a special mention. She extensively researched the costumes and took great pains to get a play staged in Delhi before Jawaharlal Nehru and other dignitaries. She also wrote a book titled Chavittu Natakam in 1964. Today, there are masters like A.N. Anirudhan who passionately impart lessons.
In 2012, the Academy hit headlines with its protest against the Government's decision not to include the art form as a competitive item in State School Youth Festival competitions. They staged a performance on the streets as the inaugural procession was passing by. “Today, it’s a much preferred item in the Youth Festival and the response is overwhelming,” adds Ajithkumar. The Academy which has the recognition of Kerala Folklore Academy has also received a grant from Kendra Sangeeta Nataka Academy to train children for three years with a stipend of Rs. 200. This year onward, the Academy has instituted an award titled 'Sebina Rafi Puraskaram' to honour those who made significant contributions to the art form.
IMPACT: Over the years, Chavittu Natakam has become hugely popular largely due to the efforts of the Academy and other clubs who have been working relentlessly to popularise the legacy of this art form. Their efforts have caught the attention of both the State Government and general public.
GETTING IN TOUCH: To know more about Chavittu Natakam and the Kerala Chavittu Nataka Academy call 94469 27345 (Chairman) or 95626 36967 (Secretary)
Sunil Naliyath is a columnist and translator