Kottakkal Gopi Nair, the multifaceted Kathakali performer, passes away

Kottakkal Gopi
Kottakkal Gopi. Photo: Special Arrangement/Sajith Moothakurambu

Palakkad: "… There is no doubt that Gopi Nair has always been a role model as an artist, who maintained purity of life without yielding to circumstances and pressures, and as a noble person who achieved proud achievements with absolute sincerity and hard work regardless of his own preferences in all the subjects he dealt with…"

These words, of the legendary Ayurveda patriarch and Padma Bhushan recipient the late Dr P K Warrier, sums up Kathakali artiste Kottakkal Gopi Nair who breathed his last at a private hospital at Kunnamkulam Friday morning. Gopi hailed from Koottanad, a hamlet in Palakkad district.

Kottakkal Gopi, Gopi asan to friends disciples and loved ones, devoted his entire life to Kathakali and spent five decades as a student, actor and principal at the PSV Natyasangham Kottakkal, one of the major centres of Classical Kathakali training in the country.

For the Kathakali fraternity and for natives of Koottanad and its surroundings, he was not just a Kathakali artiste. He was kaleidoscopic in his personality. Besides being a consummate performer, he was a guru, mentor, social worker, businessman and philanthropist. But most of all, Gopi asan was a true friend with an endearing sense of humour.

Born on July 16, 1926, as the 12th child of Komangalath Nedumuli Mangatt Kunjikuttyamma and Krishnan Nair couple in the well-to-do Mangatt family, Gopi asaan took up Kathakali after his fifth standard and staged his first performance at the age of 12.

Kottakkal Gopi Nair as 'Kuchelan' alongside Kalamandalam Gopi (centre) in the role of 'Krishna' during the former's Navati celebrations at PSV Natyasangham Kottakkal in 2016. File photo: Sukumar CV Kottakkal

In 1946, at the age of 20, he joined PSV Natyasangham in Kottakkal as a student. Over the next five decades, Gopi asan took up many roles -- as a performer, a guru, an organiser and the leading light of the institution till 1996. He was to retire 10 years earlier, in 1986, but his hard work and managerial excellence prompted the management extend his service.

Gopi Nair, along with the then Lords of Kathakali Kottakkal Krishnankutty Nair and Mekkara Narayanan Nair, went on to become the three pillars of Natyasangham during those times in terms of performance and training. He also had the good fortune to train under Pattikamthodi Ravunni Menon, Kavalapara Narayanan Nair and Vazhengada Kunchu Nair and also perform along with them on various stages across the state.

Kottakkal Gopi Nair interacting with students. File photo: Special arrangement

Gopi Nair began his performing career mainly in female roles such as Kirmeeravadham Lalitha, Kalakeyavadham Urvashi and Keechakavadham Sairandhri. When stalwarts Kesavan Embranthiri, Kottakkal Sivaraman and a few others joined his troupe and started donning these characters, Gopi Nair took up male roles such as Kalyanasougandhikam Bheeman, Subhadraharanam Arjunan, Santhanagopalam Brahmanan et al.

He later mainly focussed on minukku roles including Kuchela, Narada and Brahmana. His characters, Parasuraman in Sampoornaramayanam and Sivan in Ayyappacharitham, compiled by Cherinellikkattu Achutha Varier (CA Varier) for PSV Natyasangham, brought him many laurels.

Kottakkal Gopi Nair performing 'Kuchelan' as part of his Navati celebrations at PSV Natyasangham Kottakkal in 2016. File photo: Sukumar PV Kottakkal

After returning to his home in 1996, he became active in many social fields, starting with the cultural and agricultural fields. Gopi Nair was the vice chairman of Ashtangam Ayurveda College in Vavanoor, patron of Pratheeksha Palliative Care – Koottanad and took leadership of various trusts including Vazhenkada Kunju Nair Memorial Trust.

He has received many recognitions such as Kerala Kalamandalam Pattikkamthodi award, Kala Darppanam award and Karalmanna Samsthuti Samman over the years. He leaves behind wife Vettathil Radha, children Ramani, Ashokan, Sudhakaran and Satheeshan. Funeral services will be performed at his home on Saturday at 2 pm.

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