Kochi, Feb 20: The ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) has provided a platform for a number of fast-disappearing traditional art forms. On Sunday night, one such endangered form, ‘Chavittu Nadakam’, from central Travancore was showcased.
Literally ‘Stamping drama’, the classical musical drama style – that has roots in the arrival of the Portuguese – involves performers stamping their feet on the stage in step to the music beats. A successful end is generally marked when the stage caves in. There was little danger of that at the Pavilion in Cabral Yard, Fort Kochi, where the performance was held last evening.
Still, with glittering costumes and dramatic, rhythmic music, the performance – based on the story of King Karalsman and presented by Gothuruth Chavittu Nadaka Kala Sammithi – was a throwback to yesteryear theatrical productions depicting conflicts between right and wrong.
“Chavittu Nadakam has similarities with the operas of the West because of its highly dramatic sequences and narrative methods,” said Thampi Payyapilly, known as Thampi Asan (master), who has been performing Chavittu Nadakam for nearly four decades.
Besides directing this production, Payyapilly also played the lead role of King Karalsman. He is one of the few remaining practitioners from Gothuruth, near Vypin, the place where ‘Chavitu Nadakam’ is believed to have originated. Established in 1954, Gothuruth Chavittu Nadaka Kala Sammithi is one of the few collectives that sustain Chavittu Nadakam in Kerala.
“To depict war-fighting, elements from martial arts like ‘Kalaripayattu’ are used in Chavittu Nadakam, and the music has influences from ‘Yaksha ganam’,” Payyapilly said.
The plot revolves around a wicked King who embarks on a battle with Karalsman, but fails to overcome the power of the good king. “The story of Karalsman is the most popular plot in Chavituu Nadakam, the original script of which was written back in the 16th century,” he said.
Believed to have evolved from the cultural vacuum felt by Portuguese missionaries when they reached Kerala in the 16th century, the production has remained relevant thanks to its incorporation of elements from a multitude of cultures.
In addition to blending their theatre with indigenous art forms to propagate their teachings among the native population, the missionaries also set their performances in the ‘Senth Tamizh’ language popular in the coastal areas in Kerala during the time.
“When the Portuguese influx started, there were no particular linguistic or geographical boundaries like there are today. The language of Kerala’s coastal areas was a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam. The first written scripts of Chavittu Nadakam plays were written in ‘Senth Tamizh’. This is why Tamil is still being used as the language today,” Payyappilly said.
Thanking the Biennale for hosting their performance, he added, “Though there was slump in popularity for Chavittu Nadakam in the 1980s, the art form has been regaining popularity recently as the younger generation is showing more interest in studying it.”
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