'Thaadiyarangu' at Vellinezhi celebrates ferocious Kathakali characters

Vellinezhi Kala Gramam has once again come alive with a 'Thaadiyarangu.' The village is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the 'Kaliyarangu' as well as annual festival of artist Vellinezhi Nanu Nair Kala Kendram, which has entered the 17th year of its formation.

The audience at the celebrations includes not only aficionados of Nanu Nair's art but only ordinary people. The highlight of the celebrations is the presentation of very rare scenes in Kathakali.

The first performance is 'Sanghachooda vadham' (The killing of Sanghachooda). The artists are Kathakali maestro Vasudevan Namboodiri as Sanghachooda, Kalakendram Kalluvazhi Gopi as Balabhadra, Kalamandalam Surachand and Kalamandalam Akhil Varma as Gopikas and Maya Nellinode as Krishna.

On the following days acts Rajasooyam, Narakasura vadham, Nalacharitam, Baka Vadham, and Dakshayagam will be staged.

"The Kaliyarangu offers a totally complete Kathakali experience as the performances last an entire night," says Kalakendram chief and noted critic Dr Vellinezhy Achuthankutty.

A sumptuous feast, 'murukkan,' tea, black tea, dinner and breakfast are also available at the Kaliyarangu, he added. According to Achuthankutty, the festival aims to make Kathakali performances an enjoyable affair.

A peep into the past

'Chuvanna thaadi' make-up in Kathakali depicts the most cruel and villainous characters. Literally meaning 'red beard,' these roles were once ignored in Kathakali. The Thaadiyarangu is a symbol of the prestige and acceptance gained by the chuvanna thaadi characters over the years, thanks to Vellinezhi Nanu Nair, a renowned and visionary practitioner of the art form.

A popular festival, the Thaadiyarangu attracts people belonging to all sections of the society.

In earlier times, red beard characters could be enacted by any Kathakali artist. They appeared on stage only during the final part of the performance when the last hours of the night too would have set in. The chuvanna thaadi was destined to be killed and the best singers or percussionists declined to accompany the artists who enacted these roles. Moreover, Kathakali lovers who were knowledgeable about the art form would have left by the time red beards took the stage. The red beard actors were hence virtually reduced to fourth class artists.

This discrimination existed from the training stage itself. Teenagers who were tall were given the roles of women characters. In case the youngster is tall but lacking in good looks, he would be made a red beard. Nanu Nair, son of Kariyattil Koppan Nair, a noted Kathakali maestro, had to meet with this fate.

When Nanu Nair was taken to Kerala Kalamandalam for Kathakali training, he was told that he was not fit for the art form. But Nanu Nair’s father was not ready to accept this decision of the Kalamandalam authorities. Nanu Nair's training in red beard characters began from that time. He soon earned fame as Vellinezhi Nanu Nair, the acclaimed Kathakali artist.

He enacted several chuvanna thadi characters, imparting to them a soul. Kathakali lovers began to view red beard roles with a new eye. Nanu Nair gave a new interpretation to Veerabhadran who arrived at Daksha’s place of yaga (sacrifice) with the intention of destroying it. Nanu Nair also made mythical characters like Kali, Thrigarthan, Kalakeyan and Jarasandhan immortal. The emphasis, stress, height, bearing, look, roar and movements he gave to each role were perfect. The audience were spell-bound by the amazing emotions displayed by Nanu Nair on the Kathakali stage.

Gradually, Kathakali experts and critics also began noticing Nanu Nair's performances. Red beard characters found equal space along with 'pacha' (noble) and 'kathi' (bad) roles.

In 1973, Nanu Nair was honoured with the Kendra Sangeetha Nataka Academy award. It was the first such Central Government award bestowed on the red beard. Nanu Nair's reaction on receiving the honour was, "I am glad that a character appearing during the last laps of the night, when everyone is on the verge of sleep, his due."

Nanu Nair was born as the son of Kariyattil Koppan Nair and Karthiyayani Amma in 1910. He trained at his own house and at Manakkulam Kaliyogam in 1921 under his father. During the early stage of his career, he enacted women’s roles also. From 1934, he earned a name as a red beard character. Nanu Nair was also a member of the Manakkulam Kaliyogam in 1931, Vachali Kittan’s kaliyogam in 1931-32 and Karamvally Kalivattom in 1934-35. He joined Vellinezhi High School as the Kathakali teacher in 1950 and later retired in 1970. Nanu Nair passed away on August 30, 1987.

The Nanu Nair Kalakendram

On September 9, 2001, the Vellinezhi Nanu Nair Kalakendram was established in memory of the renowned Kathakali artist. Advisors of the centre included maestros like Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair and Thayambaka expert Mattannur Sankarankutty. The founder president was Thazhathethil Kesavan Master.

The Kalakendram now boasts of a training center and auditorium. As many as 91 students have passed out after 'arangettam (debut on-stage performance) so far. Training in Kathakali costumes, songs, 'chenda,' 'maddhalam,' 'chutti,' classical dance, and 'thimila' is also offered.

Advisors of the center include Kalamandalam Vasudevan Nair, Kalamandalam Kuttan, Vazhenkada Vijayan, Kalanilayam Balakrishnan, Kalamandalam Mohanakrishnan and Kalamandalam Damodaran Nair.

The Thaadiyarangu opened in 2008 with a performance arranged by Nelliyodu Vasudevan Nampoothiri. Characters like Yavanan, Mannan, Mannathi etc. which common people could relate to were enacted. Many of these characters became hugely popular. People who were not experts in Kathakali also arrived to watch the performances at the Thaadiyarangu, where booklets explaining the story and presentation were distributed. All this helped make Kathakali more accessible.

Gradually complex characters and stories were performed, but by then even the common folk could understand and enjoy the presentations. It is this glorious track record that makes the tenth anniversary of Thaadiyarangu special.

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