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A Kingmaker Exits

In any profession - arts included- educators don’t emerge great practitioners. Amid their anxiety to inspire and empower their students, these teachers often forget their own pursuits. But they are the real heroes (and heroines) who give their calibre to something bigger. Without such teachers, how would generations bloom? Or legacies sustain?

Kalamandalam Kuttan (Kuttan aasan as he is respectfully called), 83, the Kathakali maestro who passed away recently, is widely acclaimed as an ardent Kathakali teacher. ’Aasan’ signifies guru in Kathakali parlance. “Performing on the stage, one pleases the audience; there is no journey beyond that. Would you ever get true feedback? Where is the chance to mend the imperfections? But students are mirrors; they reflect what you give to them.” No wonder then that even masters used to call in Kuttan aasan for fine-tuning of their skills. These insights have also entailed in Kuttan aasan’s churning out a bunch of skilled kathakali artistes who have made their mark. Wasn’t he the real kingmaker? The one who created myriad kings and celestial characters for the Kathakali stage. His disciples include Kalanilayam Gopalakrishnan, Kalanilayam Karunakaran, Kalanilayam Gopi and on the unusual side, Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, former chairman, ISRO.

This doesn’t mean that Kuttan aasan was not associated with the stage. During his artistic journey spanning over six decades, Kuttan aasan has donned many roles on the stage. He was comfortable with the three prominent styles of Kathakali Veshams. Viz., Pacha (nobles), Kathi (usually villains) and Kari (primitive). But the audience had a special liking for his Daksha (Story: Dakshayagam) and eventually he came to be sobriquetted as Dakshan Kuttan. His Kattalan or hunter (Story: Nalacharitham) is another admired role. He also ‘holds’( not in the Guinness though) the record of portraying Vibheeshana in the Ramayana story ‘Sri Rama Pattabhishekam’ for forty years in succession at the historic Koodalmanikkam temple in Irinjalakuda, Kerala. The play is staged as a customary ritual on the last day of the annual temple festival. Hundreds of devotees throng at the temple to witness the coronation of Lord Sri Rama. The temple is dedicated to the Ramayana brother Bharata.

Kuttan aasan is often described as a disciplined instructor in Kalari (Kathakali class room) the word discipline seems negative these days. But for Kuttan aasan the word discipline meant the classroom management that ensured students got the most from his training. Disruptions and laziness were not tolerated. Aasan was a proponent of Kalluvazhi School formulated by Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon and later evolved as Kalamandalam style. Dignified stage movements are its hallmark.

Born in 1939 in Vellinezhi, a Kerala village which is the home for a few Kathakali artistes including the maestro Naanu nair, Kuttan aasan was taken to kathakali immediately after formal schooling at Kerala Kalamandalam, now a deemed to be university for arts. He joined Unnayi Warrier Smaraka Kalanilayam, the Kathakali institute in Irinjalakuda (Thrissur) in 1964 as Vesham instructor and retired as its principal in 1995. Kuttan aasan is the recipient of many awards and recognitions such as the awards and fellowships of both Kerala and Central Sangeet Natak Akademies and Kalamandalam fellowship.

By K.V.Murali Mohan A passionate freelance writer and ardent communicator - Double Post Graduate in communication subjects -Recipient of Kulapati Gold Medal and TKM Rao award in Journalism - Credited with four decades of literary pursuit spanning over 300 plus articles in national and regional publications.


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