History & Culture

Koodiyattam meastro P.K.G. Nambiar scripts a new play

Koodiyattam exponent P.K.G. Nambiar  

A nonagenarian, Koodiyattam exponent P.K.G. Nambiar still has the energy and passion to come up with something new. He has achieved the near-impossible by scripting a one-act play, since the strict structure of the art form and its dialogue in Sanskrit sloka format make it difficult to move beyond the conventional repertoire.

The play titled ‘Chyavana Sukanyangam’ is based on the Mahabhagavatam. Spread over seven scenes, it is the story of the union of sage Chyavana and Sukanya, the daughter of king Saryathi.

“It is the result of four years of assiduous efforts,” said PKG (as he is referred to) during his ‘navathy’ (90th birthday) celebrations on March 1 this year at his birthplace Ottappalam.

Explaining the story and the varied stages of its composition, he said, “First, I began with slokas that were most suitable for Nangiarkoothu; then I thought I would add a few slokas for the Vidushaka and counter slokas for him. Finally, what emerged was a full-fledged Koodiyattam play with all the necessary ingredients.” The Aattaprakaram or acting manual was ready and he even had a cast in mind but the lockdown brought the entire project to a halt. PKG is, however, optimistic about the play being staged soon.

Interest in Sanskrit

PKG’s love for Sanskrit can be traced to his urge to imitate his father, the late Koodiyattam artiste Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar. Sensing his son’s interest in the language, Madhava Chakyar sent him for Sanskrit classes to gurus Sankaran Nambuthiripad, Kalakkath Raman Nambiar, Meledath Damodaran Nambiar and K. Sankaran Nair.

Mani Madhava Chakyar was known for his revolutionary moves. He was the first Chakyar to stage a performance outside the precincts of a temple and also outside Kerala. Breaking conventions, he trained his two sons — P.K. Narayanan Nambiar and P.K.G. Nambiar in the theatre form. While the older brother is an authority on mizhavu, the younger one specialised in the role of Vidushaka in Koodiyattam. The trio went on to stage plays throughout the country, starting with Chennai in 1962 at the invitation of Sanskrit scholar and musicologist Dr. V. Raghavan.

The added advantage of PKG being assigned the role of Vidushaka was his command over Hindi (the only character on the Koodiyattam stage with the freedom to speak another language is the Vidushaka). When he along with his father Madhava Chakyar performed at the Benaras Hindu University, PKG’s impeccable Hindi impressed Vice-Chancellor Bhagavathy, who commented, “We are listening to such chaste Hindi for the first time from a South Indian; I think we have to take lessons from him.” Incidentally, PKG was a Hindi teacher in NSS High School, Ottappalam, for 36 years.

Given his exceptional wit and humour, his solo performances were much sought after in North India. Small wonder that his book on Vidushaka appeared in Hindi first and was published by Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. It was only later that the Kerala Sahithya Akademi published the Malayalam version.

Replete with anecdotes

PKG’s new play offers ample scope for abhinaya. The Vidushaka has a pivotal role. According to the story, Chyavana is surrounded by an ant hill during his intense penance in a forest. Only his two glowing eyes are visible. Sukanya pierces the eyes out of curiosity. Though the sage does not curse her, people across the country develop breathing problem due to her action. To atone for the sin, Sukanya marries the sage. Ashwini Devathas, the divine physicians, put her through a test to check her faithfulness to her aged and ordinary looking husband. When she emerges successful, they make a herbal medicine that transforms the sage to a handsome young man. The Ayurvedic medicine Chyavanaprasam derives its name from this story.

An artiste with exceptional literary skills, PKG has also translated into Hindi his father’s monumental work, Natyakalpadhrumam, an authentic text on Koodiyattam. He has been honoured by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi and Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.

The writer and culture critic

is a trained musician.


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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 2:14:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-vidhushaka-is-back/article32576116.ece

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