With the passing away of Kothavil Raman Kutty, the art of making 'koppu' – the crown and other ornamental gear for performing arts including kathakali – has suffered an unfathomable loss.
Raman Kutty's expertise played a big part in enabling viewers enjoy the arts being performed on stage better.
The secret behind the visit of all major artists to Vellinezhi village was the presence of Raman Kutty.
A legendary craftsman
Raman Kutty took up 'koppu' making following the footsteps of his father, the iconic Kothavil Krishnan Achari. He succeeded in laying a systematic foundation for the making of the paraphernalia used not only in kathakali performances but also ritual arts like 'Poothan chira.'
Born in the year 1948 at Vellinezhi arts village in Palakkad district, Raman Kutty later started the Kothavil Krishanan Achari 'Koppu' making centre.
Even while sticking to tradition, Raman Kutty embraced modernity in using machinery for his work.
He had deep knowledge of the art forms and the characters for which the 'koppu' was being made.
A winner of several awards, Raman Kutty briefly worked as a teacher at Kerala Kalamandalam. When making of the decorative figures for arts events was dropped from the syllabus, Raman Kutty returned to his native place and set up the 'koppu' making unit.
Till his demise, Raman Kutty was active in its work. He ensured that his legacy would be carried forward by his sons Unnikrishnan and Govindan Kutty.
In addition to the making 'koppu' items, musical instruments are also given shape at Vellinezhy.
Raman Kutty was eager to impart lessons on his craft to all eager students, who reached his house from even foreign countries.
A brief history of the craft
Thelekkattu Madhavan Namboodiri, an expert in kathakali and elephant processions, once lived in Vellinezhy. He had knowledge about every aspect of kathakali, including the size of the stage, dimensions of the curtain, height of the traditional lamp etc.
Regarding 'koppu' making, too Namboodiri had his own ideas and worked with an expert in the craft, Othenathu Govindan Nair. He also supervised the activities at the workshop of Pattikkamthody Ramunni Menon, a kathakali reformer. The chief craftsmen at this workshop were Othenathu Madhavan Nair and Vazhenkada Rama Warrier.
Madhavan Namboodiri planned to make new kathakali paraphernalia modelled on the ancient items present at Olappamanna 'mana.' He invited expert craftsmen to the 'mana' – traditional house – and gave each of them a 'hasthakadam,' an ornamental piece. The craftsmen were asked to make its pair. Kothavil Krishnan Achari, who was among the craftsmen, created the most striking resemblance and was declared the winner of the 'contest.'
Krishnan Achari was subsequently given the task of creating the rest of the items and the Kothavil family entered the 'koppu'-making sector.
Madhavan Namboodiri's son earned a bigger name than him. He was the multi-talented 'chenda' artist Kalamandalam Krishnan Kutty Pothuval. Madhavan Namboodiri died at his son's house at age 98, leaving behind a rich legacy of giving a systematic touch to kathakali performances.
With the demise of Raman Kutty, the craft will be taken up by his sons Kothavil Unnikrishnan and Kothavil Govindan Kutty and Ratheesh, a relative.
Ratheesh runs 'Bhaskareeyam,' a centre where 'koppu' items are made, along with designing buildings based on ancient architectural formulae.
Expert traditional carpenters (asaris) chisel out the crowns and other body ornaments of performers from the wood of a rare tree called 'kumizh' (Gmelina arborea). It is a wild tree which is light as well as strong. These qualities enable the craftsmen to add even minute features. Kumizh is a medicinal tree belonging to the group, 'Dasamoolam.' A crown made out of kumizh wood will not affect the breathing or surrounding air. It is also believed to increase the energy level of the body. Wood of trees aged at least 35 years is used for the purpose.
Main items worn on head by a male character: Kesabharam (mane), Krishnamudi (Krishna's mane), Maharshi mudi (sage's mane), karimudi, vattamudi, and kuttichamaram.
Body ornaments: Thoda (a pair), chevippoovu (a pair), tholpoovu (a pair), paruthikkamani (a pair), koralaram, padiyaranjanam, vala and hastakadakam (a pair).
Women's ornaments: Kathila, mulakkoralaram and aranjanam.
'Chutti' artists embellish the ornamental items made out of wood with decorations.
(Information courtesy: 'Art forms of Valluvanad and Vellinezhy' by Dr Vellinezhy Achuthan Kutty.)