Kathakali maestro Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair, 105, passes away

Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair. Photo: Manorama

Kozhikode: Kathakali maestro Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair passed away at his residence at Chengottukaavu in Cheliya, Koyilandi, here, on Monday. He was 105.

A proponent of Kathakali's northern style of Kalladikkodan, Chemancheri was active on stages for about nine decades.

Chemancheri made his debut in Kathakali at Kuniyil Paradevatha Temple, Keezhapayyur, when he was merely 14. The Krishna and Kuchela roles he had staged were popular among Kathakali connoisseurs.

Chemancheri's Krishna in Kuchelavrutham, Duryodhana Vadham and Rukmini Swayamvaram stood out among the various roles he had performed.

Born to Madayankandi Chathukutty Nair and Kinattinkara Kunjammakkuttiyamma on June 16, 1916, Chemancheri had his primary education from Chengottukaavu Elementary School and Chengottukaavu East Upper Primary School. He, however, dropped out after Standard 4.

Chemancheri's family, which had taken up agriculture for a living, was against him following art. He left home at the age of 15 and pursued Kathakali under Guru Karunakara Menon.

Later, he became an expert in Bharatanatyam and other Indian dance forms under the guidance of prominent dancer Balachandra Saraswathi Bhai, Guru Gopinath and Kalamandalam Madhavan Nair. Along with Guru Gopinath, he choreographed and staged a dance-drama, ‘Kerala Nadanam.’

He had immensely contributed to training in various dance forms.

Kaumudi Teacher of Government High School in Kannur, better known for contributing her gold jewellery to Mahatma Gandhi, initiated Chemancheri to teaching in 1931. In 1944, he founded the Bharatiya Nritha Kalalayam in Kannur, the first-of-its-kind in north Malabar.

Two years later, he started Bharatiya Natya Kalalayam at Thalassery, and later with the support of Malabar Sukumaran Bhagawathar and Chemancheri Sivadas, floated the Pookkaadu Yuvajana Kalalayam in Kozhikode in 1974. Several of his students later became prominent personalities in the field of art.

Though Chemancheri immersed himself in dance-drama and teaching, Kathakali remained his first love. The Cheliya Kathakali Vidyalayam he started on his family property in 1983 to promote Kathakali later became one of the prominent schools of art in the state. Besides Kathakali, the institute also imparts lessons in instrumental music and dance. It has also been organising Kathakali workshops and has played a pivotal role in promoting the art form in north Malabar.

Recognizing his contributions to art, the country honoured him with Padma Shri in 2017. He had also won the Sangeeta Nataka Academy Award for dance in 1979, Academy fellowship for Kathakali and dance in 1999, an award for meritorious service constituted by Kerala Kalamandalam, Kalarathnam award, and the Union government's Vayoshresta Samman.

Chemancheri had also served as an executive member of the Sangeeta Nataka Academy. He had also worked as an examiner at the dance division of the Kerala Kalamandalam and was an executive member of the Vishwakala Kendram. He was on the audition panel of the Doordarshan.

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