History & Culture

Pazhoor Bindu, the woman in an all-male temple art form

Mudiyettu artiste Pazhoor Bindu  

A triumphant smile brightens Pazhoor Bindu’s face as she recounts her entry into the Mudiyettu ritual dance-drama world four years ago in Kochi, where she played Kali. It made Bindu possibly the first woman to participate in this pre-classical theatre form of south-central Kerala.

“I was actually the coordinator of my troupe, but the organisers thought I would perform as well. I realised it only a day before,” recalls the artiste, now 50, about a college festival held in November 2016. “I had been trained in Mudiyettu since 1995, but I had not presented it anywhere.”

With hurried rehearsals, Bindu’s maiden performance went on well. Fourteen months later, a feudal mansion at Haripuram, in Ernakulam district, became the second venue where she enacted the angry goddess.

Mudiyettu that depicts Kali vanquishing demon Darikan, is performed at Bhagavati shrines, but the form has seldom entertained women practitioners. And certainly not in the past three centuries, notes Bindu. Not surprisingly, a female performer invited displeasure from the community of Marars and Kurups, who usually perform the Mudiyettu.The resistance didn’t deter the artiste, who is from Nayathodu on the banks of the Periyar. “My father-in-law was a Mudiyettu exponent,” she says, referring to Pazhoor Damodara Marar, who died in 2000. “He initiated me into the art. My husband Narayana Marar carried forward the tradition. It helped me connect with the legacy I had acquired.”

In 2012, Bindu lost her husband to cancer, and after overcominghurdles she formed a Mudiyettu institution two years later. Today, she heads a 17-member troupe with artistes from the neighbouring districts of Kottayam and Alappuzha. With an average of 60 shows per year, the troupe would perform through the day at temples, while an abridged version will be performed at non-religious venues.

UNESCO recognition

Veteran Koratty Narayana Kurup is pleased with his protégé’s achievements. “I laud Bindu’s efforts. Because by portraying Kali she has broken the myth that only men can do the role,” says the maestro of Mudiyettu, which won the UNESCO recognition in 2010.

Kerala Folklore Academy, which recently announced Bindu among its list of awardees for 2018, notes that the ancient arts of this region seldom slotted women to perform even in forms that emerged from Amma Daivam sects. “Be it Theyyam or Thiyyattu, it is invariably men who appear as the goddesses. That way, Bindu is unlikely to have a woman predecessor in Mudiyettu,” says P.V. Lovelin, a senior official with KFA in Kannur. “It’s a pioneering move in a modern world that strives to blur gender divides.”

On her part, Bindu isn’t particularly bothered about any such tag. “I read a lot of books. Nowhere did it lead me to believe that women can’t perform Mudiyettu,” says the researcher, who was conferred a Doctorate by the Germany-based International Peace University last year. “After all, it is a means of livelihood as much as an art. We have to survive.” Before becoming the Mudiyettu artiste Bindu was working as a nurse at a hospital in Kochi, 35 km west of Pazhoor. “I gave it up in 2013 to concentrate on Mudiyettu,” she says, thanking folklore scholar A.K. Nambiar for motivating her.

Of late, Bindu’s daughter Krishnapriya appears on stage as Darikan opposite her mother as Kali. “My mom is my teacher. I first performed the role at Haripuram,” says the budding artiste .

Laced with humour

Mudiyettu features seven characters, and using moving-stage technique, they dance in various locations of the shrine even while being anchored around the kalam — a sanctified plot with a Kali image on the floor.

Mudiyettu employs stylised dialogue for its characters, and to keep the audience enthralled the performance is laced with humorous instances as well. The accompanying instruments include the chenda drum and ilathalam cymbals. When she premièred four years ago, Bindu had found it tough to even walk with the Kali headgear that weighs nine kilos. “Today, I dance freely,” she says. “Just as the custom demands.” Once the lockdown is lifted, Bindu is planning to train a team of women dancers in Mudiyettu.

The writer is a keen follower of Kerala’s traditional performing arts

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 8:02:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/pazhoor-bindu-the-woman-in-an-all-male-temple-art-form/article32403818.ece

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