When the Second Part of the 8th Utsavam, the International Koodiyattam and Kathakali Festival (IKKF), concluded on the 18th of April 2015 at the Indian Consulate Auditorium in Dubai, another feather was added to the cap of Traditions Live, the Dubai based non-profit cultural organisation, that has been conducting such events with the support of the Consulate General of India in Dubai for promoting the rich heritage of performing arts from Kerala for the last eight years.  Biju Thomas writes a feature on the IKKF for the readers of NRI Achievers in this issue …

The IKKF is a much-feted annual festival and it has evolved as a signature event in the cultural calendar of Dubai.  The staging of Balivadham Koodiyattam, based on ‘Abhisheka Natakam’ of Bhasa, was the first programme of the second part of the 8th Utsavam and it was staged in the evening of 16th April, 2015.  The first day of the festival was dedicated to Padmashri Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakyar, one of the greatest exponents of Koodiyattam, the only surviving Sanskrit theatre in the world which has been performed for the last two thousand years in Kerala, without substantial changes in the style of presentation, mannerisms, recital or costumes, making it one of the oldest existing classical theatrical forms in the world.  At any rate, it is the only surviving Sanskrit theatre on earth.  Koodiyattam has been recognised by UNESCO as one of the ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.’  Sri Sooraj Nambiar played the sole character representing Sri Rama.

The second day, the 17th of April, was quite an eventful day and was dedicated to Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty-amma, who liberated Mohiyattam from the Sringaram stigma and placed it on a pedestal as an Indian Classical Dance.  Dr. Neena Prasad gave a lecture and illustrative demonstrations on the techniques and aesthetics of Mohiniyattam. The dance form Mohiniyattam, literally meaning “the dance of the enchantress,” originated in the 16th century and is performed by women as solo recitals. Women in gold embroidered off-white costumes present graceful and rhythmic movements accompanied by vocals and instrumental music. This was followed with a lecture and demonstrations on Koodiyattam by artistes Sooraj Nambiar, Saritha Krishnakumar, Dr. Aparna Nangiar, Kalamandalam Rajeev, Kalamandalam Narayanan Nambiar and Kalamandalam Hariharan. They elaborated on the history and technical aspects of Koodiyattam.

In the afternoon, Saritha Krishnakumar presented Nangyiar Koothu, an offshoot of Koodiyattam that is believed to have started around five centuries after Koodiyaattam. It is a solo performance and remains the exclusive domain of female artistes.   This was followed by a repetition of the Koodiyattam performance based on Balivadham by Sooraj Nambair. The day concluded with a Mohiniyattam performance by Dr. Neena Prasad, whose repertoire included presentations of both katcheri and thematic style.

The third day was dedicated to Vilvattathu Ravunni Nambiar, an all-round scholar of Koothu and Koodiyattam and an expert in playing the Mizhavu, a big drum made of copper and is played with bare hands, as an accompanying percussion instrument for the performances of Koodiyattam, Nangiyar Koothu, Chaakyar Koothu, and Mizhavu Thayampaka.  The day began with a lecture and demonstration on Mohiniyattam by Dr. Neena Prasad, dwelling mainly on the history and evolution of the dance form. This was followed by lecture and demonstration by the same team as of the second day on Koodiyattam, elaborating on Cholliyattam – the simultaneous recital by the artistes, technical aspects and the role of the percussion instrument (Mizhavu) in the performance.  In the afternoon on the third day, four Koodiyattam artistes – Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar, Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar, Saritha Krishnakumar and Sooraj Nambiar, performed Balivadham and Dr. Neena Prasad presented a grand Mohiniyattam performance.

The supporting artistes for Koodiyattam on all these days were Kalamandalam Rajeev, Kalamandalam Hariharan and Kalamandalam Narayanan Nambiar playing the Mizhavu, Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan playing Idaykka, Dr. Aparna Nagiar playing thaalam and Kalanilayam Sankaranarayanan doing the makeup (Chutti).  The supporting artistes for Mohiniyattam were Changanasseri Madhavan Nampoothiri singing the vocal, Satheesan playing the Mridangam and Muralikrishnan playing the Veena.

The First Part of the 8th Utsavam had been staged from 4th to 6th December 2014 at HRH Princess Haya Bint Hussein Theatre, GEMS Wellington International School, Dubai.  On the first day on 4th December, the programme started in the evening with Maddalakeli, the sounding of the percussion instrument Maddalam, to announce the starting of the event. This was followed by a Kathakali performance by Padmabhushan Madavoor Vasudevan Nair, Kalamandalam Chinosh Balan and Vellinezhi Haridas. Kathakali is a traditional classical dance-drama performance that originated in Kerala and has gained worldwide appreciation on account of the gorgeous makeup, elaborate costumes, expressive body movements and gestures. The focus of the Utsavam in Kathakali was on the character Ravana, exploring the vibrant and varied facets of Ravana, the anti-hero (Kathi Vesham) across four plays in which he is one of the central characters.

The closing event of the day was a thrilling thayampaka, a traditional percussion ensemble of Kerala, led by Kalloor Ramankutty Marar and Porur Unnikrishnan. Artistes who performed in the First Part of Utsavam were very eminent persons such as Padma Bhushan Madavoor Vasudevan Nair, Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar, Kalamandalam Shanmughan, Kalamandalam Sreekumar, Ottamthullal artiste Kalamandalam Geethanandan, Kallur Ramankutty Marar, Porur Unnikrishnan, Kalamandalam Krishnadas etc.

Apart from Kathakali, Ottan Thullal and Sheethankan Thullal were staged during the First Part of the Festival. It was for the first time that Dubai witnessed performances of Ottan Thullal and Sheethankan Thullal.  Thullal is essentially a modified form of Koothu – the language is simple Malayalam, and wit and humour are the soul of the performance.  Generally movements are fast and rhythmic. Sheethankan Thullal is a slower variation of Ottan Thullal. Percussion instruments of maddalam and elathalam accompany the solo performance, in which the dancer does the singing. The humorous elements of Koothu are combined with the steps and gestures of Kathakali and the songs in general, are aimed at correcting evils prevalent in society.

The first part of the 8th edition of Utsavam IKKF also had on show a unique exhibition of photos taken by Rajan Karimoola depicting late Kottakal Sivaraman. The exhibition was a rare treat for the fans of Kathakali and the camera. The photos portrayed Kottakal Sivaraman in various milieus and miens which took one down the memory lane with the great actor.

Utsavam, the International Koodiyattam and Kathakali Festival (IKKF),  is the only annual event in Dubai aimed at showcasing the traditional performing arts of Kerala and has successfully completed its eighth sequential yearly event with the support of the Consulate General of India.  The UAE has a Keralite population that is estimated to be above one million and the event is awaited eagerly by all emigrant art-lovers.  However, no entry fee is collected and no passes or tickets are issued to control the number of people coming for the event. Traditions Live organises the event every year purely depending on contributions from art lovers.

Traditions Live is a Dubai-based event management team of art-lovers, managed by art-lovers and solely for art-lovers.  All the stakeholders of the organisation hail from Kerala and all of them believe that it is truly the duty of all Keralites to keep the cultural traditions and heritage of their motherland alive wherever they are.  They believe that the richness of their cultural inheritance should not be allowed to be lost through ignorance, indolence or lack of opportunities for staging.  Clarity of vision and dedication to their cause have made the members of this team gather expertise and credibility in organising highly successful festivals in and around Dubai.

The event is commemorated each year with an issue of the annual publication ‘Keleeravam’.  Apart from reports and reviews on the event, the issue contains illuminating articles on traditional and contemporary aspects of classical art forms, contributed by renowned artistes and academicians, who are well conversant with the social, cultural and aesthetic aspects of the art forms, and interviews and discussions on the past, present and future of these cultural treasures by experts, making Keleeravam a much sought-after collector’s item that is cherished by artistes, connoisseurs and lay art lovers alike.  Arangu is a cultural event organized in Kerala every year in August and this year it will be the 9th year of its staging.

Through Utsavam and Keleeravam, the organisers expect to raise the profile of Kerala and India in the Emirates and all over the world.  The great antiquity, the aesthetic value, the eternal relevance and the continuing appeal of the traditional performing arts of Kerala deserve to get more appreciated globally by all art-loving people and Traditions Live is doing its mite to achieve this vision of the team … and the dream of all Keralites.



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