Mani Madhava Chakyar

15 Feb 1899
14 Jan 1990
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Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar (15 February 1899 – 14 January 1990) was a celebrated master performance artistand Sanskrit scholar from Kerala, South India, considered to be the greatest Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam (ancient Sanskrit drama theatre tradition) artist and authority of modern times.He was considered as the authority of Abhinaya (the classical Indian acting style) and Nātyaśāstra.

Known as “the Emperor of Rasa-Abhinaya”, he had an exceptional ability to perform Rasa-Abhinaya. His Netrābhinaya was world famous and he had the ability to act only with eyes. He was well versed in all the traditional Koodiyattams and all the prabandhas used in Chakyar Koothu. He was able to explain the concepts, methods and practices of Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu in a clear and authentic way. He had an in depth study of Nātyaśāstra of Bharata Muni, as well as ways of acting which were popular in Kerala. His knowledge and mastery over both theory and practice of Koodiyattam were superb. He was a veteran teacher and practitioner of these art forms and Sanskrit.

He was the first one to take Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu outside the precincts of the temples of Kerala to all over India and to impart training in Kudiyattam to non-Chakyar disciples including foreigners. He had produced many disciples in Kutiyattam and other classical arts like Kathakali. He was a Sanskrit scholar and was used to give lectures and talks in Sanskrit.

He is the author of Nātyakalpadrumam – an encyclopaedic treatise on all aspects of Koodiyattam. He was a Fellow of national art academies including Sangeet Natak Akademiand recipient of coveted titles like “Nātyāchārya”, “Vidūshakaratnam” and awards including Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

Māni Mādhava Chākyār was born on 15 February 1899, in his ancestral home at Thiruvangayoor near Karayad, of Kozhikode district of Kerala. His father was Vishnu Śarma and mother was Savithri Illotamma. He belonged to the Māni family of Chakyars of North Kerala, who for centuries have been the custodians of Koodiyattam – the traditional Sanskrit theatre and Chakyar Koothu – another classical art form based on Sanskrit Champu Kavyas.

He trained in Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam in traditional way, under the direct guidance of his uncles who were great scholars and masters of these art forms. They were Guru Māni Parameswara Chakyar, Guru Māni Neelakandha Chakyar and Guru Māni Narayana Chakyar. He belonged to the “Mani” tradition of Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu which gives importance to both Rasa-abhinaya and Vachika-abhinaya.

He was a Sanskrit scholar of supreme rank. He used to give lectures in Sanskrit. He studied Alankarashastra, Nātyaśāstra, Vyakarana, Nyaya, Jyotisha, etc. in the traditional way, under scholars such as Panditaratnam Pazhedathu Sankaran Nampoothiripad. He was the student of His Highness Darsanakalanidhi Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran (Maharaja of Cochin). He had his higher studies in Nyayashastra and Natya Shastra under him. Mani Madhava Chakyar taught Sanskrit at Balakollasini Sanskrita Pathasala of Killikkurussimangalam.

His first performance (Arangettam) of Koodiyattam was at the age of 14 at Trikkaikkunnu Temple of North Kottayam of Malabar. He used to perform the huge number of Atiyantara koothus of Mani family (the koothus which are assigned to the family from ancient times) in large number of temples stretching entire Malabar to Thrissur. It consist of all devotional ritualistic Koothus and Kudiyattams including Anguliyanka, Mattavilasa Prahasana, Mantranka, Ezhamanka ( seventh act of Ascharyachoodamani) about eight decades continuously in temples of Kerala. It includes ancient Kerala temples such as Matayikkavu Bhagavathi Temple of Kannoor, Taliparamba Rajarajeshwara Temple, Kottiyoor Perumal Temple, Lokanarkavu Temple of Vatakara, Thali (Tali) Siva Temple of Kozhikode, Thirunavaya Navamukunda temple, Thiruvegappura Sree Mahadeva Temple, Pandamangalam Krishna temple of Kottakkal, Kotakkal Vishwambhara (Shiva) temple, Kallekkulagara Emoor Siva temple, Triprayar Sri Rama temple, Peruvanam Shiva temple of Cherpu, Avittathur Shiva Temple etc. Chakyar won high renown for the artistry of his performance in these temples, as well as in many others.

He married P.K Kunjimalu Nangiaramma, the daughter of his uncle, Mani Parameshwara Chakyar. She was an exponent in lady characters of Kudiyattams and Nangiǎr Kūthu and various Ragas and Shlokas used for the art form. She used to accompany him in the performances.

He is considered as the all time great master of Rasa-abhinaya (enacting sentiments in their perfection) with special reference to Netrābhinaya (enacting sentiments, etc. through the beautiful and masterly movements of eyes only). He was exceptionally well in the field of Satwika-Abhinaya. He is considered as “one of the most wonderful theatre actors of the last century”.

He was known for his roles ( which has importance of Satvika-Abhinaya in Koodiyattams ) like Ravana (Katti vesha), Arjuna (Pacha vesha), Udayana (Pacha vesha), Jeemootavahana (Pazhukka vesha) etc.

His abhinaya of Kailasoddhārana (lifting of Kailasa) and Pārvatī Viraha (separation of Pārvatī),enriched with the Netrabinaya and Pakarnnaattam – Abhinaya (actor playing the role of another or more than one character shifting constantly without changing costume), were widely acclaimed.

He was known for the abhinaya of the slokas like “sikhinishalabham..” of the play Subhadradhananjayam by playing it with mere eyes. He was able to act in detail the Moths falling in and out of the lamp fire by evoking his Netrabhinaya, with assigning different rasa’s for female moth, male moth and the fire.Guru’s Abhinaya of the shloka smaramyavandhyadhipateh sutayah ( स्मराम्यवन्त्यािधपतेः सुतायाः ) from Bhasa’s Swapnavasawadattam is also widely acclaimed one.

He was considered a reference to Abhinaya and his ability to perform the same was considered as “perfect” by art critics. His ability to perform Netrābhinaya is considered one of the wonders of the art world, ranking alongside the symphonies of Beethoven.

Art critic, scholar of Sanskrit dramaturgy and former director of Samskritaranga- Chennai, Dr.V. Raghavan, had highest regard for the maestro and his Abhinaya

“Mani Madhava Chakyar when he portrayed Arjuna on the first evening and Ravana on the second, showed himself a master of the expression of the eye”.

Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj considered him one of the finest dancers of the millennium

“He had his own style. He could convey his thoughts through expressions. His eye movement was superb!”

Dr. Vijaya Mehta (Executive Director, National Center for Performing Arts- Bombay, acclaimed Indian theatre personality) about her experience of watching 72-year-old Guru’s Abhinaya of Parvativiraha as

“(Guru Mani Madhava Chakiar) began playing the dual role of Parvati and Shiva… he sat on a wooden chair…I have never ever seen a Parvati so exquisitely beautiful. I have never seen a Shiva so handsome and so cunning. I sat there and wept as if I were alone in the presence of God. I then realised what theatre was all about – the falsehood of that old man made me arrive at a state where inhibitions and convictions, all became so fluid and beautiful. And this vision has remained with me always”Art critic Stella Kramrisch ( Curator of Indian Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art ), after seeing his Netrābhinaya, described him as

“the greatest eye-wizard of the world.”

Famous Bharatanatyam dancer Balasaraswati remarked about the maestro-

“When i say Abhinaya, oh, I can’t do the abhinaya like what the great man did here yesterday”

next day after Chakyar’s lecture-demonstration at Madras Music Academy in 1973. One of the leading scholars of classical Indian dances, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan thought

“Mani Madhava Chakyar was the personification of all the greatness of this rich Indian classical art tradition” and “his Netraabhinaya is simply incomparable.”

Dramatist Kavalam Narayana Panicker, remarks

“Mani Madhava Chakyar’s forte was Satwikabhinaya. Endowed with expressive eyes; that can speak a thousand moods and a countenance that can reflect the range of human emotions in its entirety, Mani Madhava Chakkiar was the master at work” and “The many faces of Mani Madhava Chakyar were indeed the many faces of Kutiyattam. But whatever the costume and whatever the roles, the ability to transform himself from a mere actor to charged character was unique to Mani.”

He was known for his extraordinary ability for expressing the NavaRasas (nine Rasas) to its supreme extent and the photos of the same are and being archived in art institutions, academies such as Sangeet Natak Academy of India, and museums all over the world.

Other peculiarity of the maestro was his perfectness while reciting the shlokas in corresponding Raagas.

He brought Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam outside s of Hindu templeIn 1949 he performed Chakyar Koothu for All India Radio, which created history since that was the first time the art was performed outside Koothambalam. In 1955, under the leadership of the Guru, Kutiyattam was performed outside the temple for the first time in his village Killikkurussimangalam. For performing the art forms outside the temples he faced lot of problems from the hardline Chakyar community. In an interview Guru remembered

“My own people condemned my action (performing Koothu and Kutiyattam outside the precincts of the temples), Once, after I had given performances at Vaikom, they even thought about excommunicating me. I desired that this art should survive the test of time. That was precisely why I ventured outside the temple”

In 1962, under the leadership of Dr. V. Raghavan- noted art and Sanskrit scholar; Sanskrit Ranga of Madrass, invited Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar to perform Kutiyattam in Chennai. Thus for the first time in the history Kutiyattam was performed outside Kerala by his tropue. They presented at Madras on three nights, Kutiyattam scenes from three plays Abhiṣeka, Subhadrādhanañjaya and Nāgānda.The performance of the maestro Maani Maadhava Chakyar made great impact on the people and art critics so that, Kutiyattam and Mani Madhava Chakyar became famous outside Kerala also. People outside Kerala was able to witness the extraordinary talent of the maestro.Then Mani Madhava Chakyar was invited and performed Kutiyattam at various places of North India like New Delhi and Banaras (1964). It made the critic to accept his authority in Rasa Abhinaya, Natyasastra and Kutiyattam.

After Mani Madhava Chakyar’s first tour to New Delhi, he was awarded immediately with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1964 for his contributions to Chakyar Koothu and Kutiyattam, which became the first national recognition to the maestro and the art form. His supremacy in Rasa-abhinaya and Netrabhinaya and Kutiyattam became very famous and attracted lot of people towards the art form.

He performed Kudiyattam all over India and popularised the same. He along with his troop did Koodiyattam performance in places like Madras (1962, 1973 & 1977), Madhura (1962), New Delhi (1964, 1966, 1974, 1979 & 1983), Varanasi (1964 & 1979), Bombay (1973 & 1977), Ujjain (1982), Bhopal (1987) etc.

The President of India, scholar and philosopher, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan invited him to perform Kutiyattam at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1964 and was impressed by the Guru’s exceptional acting skill. His Kutiyattam performances, lectures and demonstrations at well known centres like Madras Music Academy in Chennai, International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi, Experimental theatre in New Delhi and Bombay, National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bombay fetched wide popularity and recognition for his Abhinaya and Kutiyattam.

He choreographed and directed acts of the plays like Kalidasa’s Abhijñānaśākuntala, Vikramorvaśīya and Mālavikāgnimitra ; Bhasa’s Swapnavāsavadatta and Pancharātra; Harsha’s Nagananda for the first time in the history of Koodiyattam. He along with his troupe performed these Kutiyattams all over India.

When his guru, His Highness Darsanakalanidhi Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran wrote a new Sanskrit champu prabandha called Prahlādacharita and requested senior artists to study and perform the same on the Chakyar Koothu stage, they said it was impossible for them to stage such a new prabandha. Then the guru asked Mani Madhava Chakiar, who was then a comparatively young artist, to try. He agreed and studied a part of the prabandha within one night and performed the same on the next day at Tripunithura – the then capital of Cochin state (1962). The incident made the scholars to accept his mastery over both Sanskrit and the classical art form. After some months, he performed entire Prahlādacharita at the same stage.

He performed Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam for All India Radio and Doordarshan for the first time, which helped to attract thousands of listeners to these traditional art forms. It was he who started demonstrations in Kudiyattam to popularise the same.

He is considered the greatest guru of Kutiyattam of the modern times, producing many accomplished disciples.He taught Koodiyattam for the first time to a non-Chakyar – Nambiar caste member. He was a Polish student named Maria Christopher Byrski(currently at Department of Indology, Warsaw University), who was then a research student at Banaras Hindu University, came to study the only surviving ancient Sanskrit drama Koodiyattam, from Guru around the early 1960s. He stayed at Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar’s home and studied Koodiyattam in its traditional Gurukula way. Lot of research scholars came to study the Sanskrit drama from the ultimate exponent of Kutiyattam and Abhinaya Mani Madhava Cakyar. Dr. Farley Richmond (University of Georgia, USA), noted Sanskrit drama scholar also studied about the ancient Sanskrit art form under Mani Madhava Chakyar by staying at his home at Killikkurussimangalam. He had filmed Rasa Abhinaya and Kutiyattam of the maestro. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay of All-India Handicrafts Board came to Guru Maani Madhava Cakyar’s home to do research about the costumes used in Kutiyattam (Ahāryābhinaya) (1967). Indian theatre scholar Goverdhan Panjal (National School of Drama) studied about Koothambalams and Kutiyattam under the Guru (1975).

When Kerala Kalamandalam (a school for the performing arts) was founded by Vallathol Narayana Menon, he invited authority of Rasa-abhinaya, Mani Madhava Chakyar as the master trainer for Rasa-abhinaya to the Kathakali students. Later Kathakali Yogam- Katathandu, Kerala Kalamandalam, PSV Natyasangham- Kottakkal and Gandhi Seva Sadanam Kathakali Academy- Perur used his services as visiting professor of Rasa-abhinaya and taught advanced students in Kathakali and Kutiyattam.

He is known as “the master who gave eyes to Kathakali”. His influence on the classical performing arts of Kerala is famous. Many Koodiyattam, Kathakali, Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam artists were trained by this great master.Kathakali artists including legendary Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Guru Kelu Nair, Guru Anand Shivram, Guru Kalamandalam Madhavan, Guru Gopinath, Sadanam Krishnankutty are his disciples.

Guru, who was an eminent teacher and performer opened a Gurukulam (training centre) in 1982 for teaching Kutiyattam, Chakyar Koothu, Nangyar Koothu and related art forms at Killikkurussimangalam (Lakkidi). After Guru’s death it was named as Padmasree Mani Madhava Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam in memory of the Guru. This institution still keeps its tradition and plays a major role in Kutiyattam teaching, revival and performance.

Guru, who had dedicated his life to Kutiyattam was concerned about the fate of this classical art form. Māni Mādhava Chākyār’s conversation with famous Bharatanatyam dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, when she visited Guru at his residence a year before his death, reflects his anxiety

“ At least Bharatanatyam is now world famous, with thousands of new votaries. What about Koodiyattam?…..I have done what I can. It has not been easy. One has to sacrifice a lot to learn Koodiyattam. How many persons will be ready for it these days? Will there be an audience capable of imbibing itMani Madhava Chakyar received many titles, awards and degrees. He is one of the most felicitated artist from Kerala. His first major recognition came from HH Bhattan Thampuran (Bhatta Raja) of Kodungallur Kovilakam Kodungallur Kovilakam himself at the age of 22. Bhattan Thampuran awarded him with a Mudramothiram (signed ring) (1921). Mani Madhava Chakyar considered this Mudramothiram as the prestigious award that he ever got.

He received the most prestigious sacred Vīrasringhala or Veerashringhala (It’s a kind of Golden Bracelet, given to the greatest artist/scholar of that era) from Taliparamba Rajarajeshwara Temple (1923). He is the youngest one to receive this award, which is being given to the scholars of the supreme rank, only by the unanimous approval of a special body of temple consisting of eminent scholars. Till date no one else has received a Veerashringhala from there after Mani Madhava Chakyar.Another major Vīrasringhalas that he received are; from Valiya Thampuran of Kottakkal Kovilakam (1952), from Urpassikkavu of Thalassery, from His Holiness Jagadguru Shri Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham (1961), from Samoothiri Raja of Kozhikode, given at the eve of Koodiyattam performance at Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple (1964) and from Tripunithura Kovilakam (1989).

He was honoured with ponnada (a kind of silk cloth given as a gesture of honour and respect) from Maharani (Queen) Of Travancore, presented through Mahakavi Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer at Vaikom Mahadeva Temple. He was honoured by HH. Rajah of Palakkad with a Keshabharam Kireetam at Hemambika Temple of Kallekkulangara (1962). He has received Gold Medals from Valiya Raja of Katathanadu, Pallikkunnu Bhagavathy Temple of Kannoor, Avittathur (1962), Delhi Experimental theatre (1964) etc.

In 1930, he was awarded the title Nātyāchārya (Guru of Natya) by Kadathanadu Valiya Thampuran (Raja of Kadathanadu). He received the title Vidūshakaratna, again from the Taliparamba Rajarajeshwara Temple (1954) for his excellence in performing “vidūshaka” in Koodiyattams. He was honoured by Fine Arts Society of Kochi by giving the title Anushtanakalapravina.

Government of India conferred Padma Shri (1974) and Emeritus Fellowship (1982) on him. He was conferred by an honorary degree from Banaras Hindu University in 1964.

He has received major National and International Awards and Fellowships such as

1964 – Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (New Delhi) first national recognition for a Koodiyattam/Chakyar Koothu artist.
1964 – Paderewski Foundation (New York) Certificate of Merit – first international recognition for Koodiyattam.
1974 – Padma Shri
1975 – Kerala Sahitya Academy Award – for the book Nātyakalpadrumam
1975 – Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy Fellowship
1982 – Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship (New Delhi)
1982 – Government of India Emeritus Fellowship
1982 – Kalidasa Academy Fellowship ( Ratna Sadasyata ) (1982)
1983 – Kerala Kalamandalam Fellowship
1987 – Tulsi Samman of Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
1991 – Guruvayoor Devaswam Award etc.
He was the first Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam artist to receive these.

He has received numerous Honours and Certificates from distinguished institutions and individuals such as Akhila Bharata Sanskrit Sammelan (World Sanskrit Conference) – New Delhi, Samskrita Ranga – Chennai, Fifth World Sanskrit Conference – Banaras, Dr.S. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh ( Maharaja of Kasi ), Satyanarayana Sinha, Bishnu Ram Medhi (Chief Minister of Assam), Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, Maharaja of Kollengode, Vallathol Narayana Menon, Dr. V. Raghavan, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Dr. V.K Narayana Menon, Dr.Kapila Vatsyayan etc. etc.

Even though Guru Mani Madhava Chakkiyar received lot of national recognitions art critics widely believe that he truly deserved a lot more and recognitions came very late. RKG (Editor, The Illustrated Weekly, Columnist for Times of India) observes,

“ ..I felt angry when I learnt that a great artist like Mani Madhava Chakyar was awarded a mere Padma Shri. A man of his artistic genius and erudition deserved to be decorated with the highest state honour (Bharat Ratna)

He has written an authoritative, award winning book (in Malayalam) on Koodiyattam called Nātyakalpadrumam (1975).This work is being used as a reference by scholars and students. Natyakalpadrumam deals with all aspects of Koodiyattam in a scientific and critical manner. This book is considered the encyclopaedia of Koodiyattam. It won the prestigious Kerala Sahitya Academi Award (1976).This book is translated into Hindi by Sangeet Natak Akademi of New Delhi.

One of his other book is Matha Vilasam (Mattavilasam 1968), the choreography and play part ( actor’s manual – Attaprakara) used in Mattavilasaprahasana Kudiyattam. He wrote the Attaprakaras of Abhijñānaśākuntala, Swapnavāsavadatta, Vikramorvaśīya, Mālavikāgnimitra, Pancharātra and Nagananda (Not published).

His biography (in Malayalam), Mani Madhaveeyam (1999) was published by Department of Cultural Affairs Publications of the Government of Kerala. The book gives the picture of astonishing accomplishing and momentous life of the Guru. It gives an excellent account of his struggles and his lifelong devotion towards the art form. The book includes Guru’s memoirs of his illustrious stage life spanning about 80 golden years. Book contains a lot of rare photos giving us an insight to maestro’s both personal and theatre life.

Guru has written articles in various journalsand presented number of papers in conferences on various aspects of Koodiyattam, Abhinaya, Raagas, Natyasastra, Chakyar Koothu, Rasābhinaya in Kathakali etc.

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