18 June, 2021

Breathing Royal Airs: A Renaissance Man’s Legacy

A central Kerala aristocratic family elevated Koodiyattam beyond the Natya Shastra tenets

Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, Venu G.
Breathing Royal Airs: A Renaissance Man’s Legacy

On a quiet evening in 1982, Ammannur Madhava Chakyar was teaching eye movements in Koodiyattam when Venu G., then a student, asked how and why he felt uniqueness in some of the master’s ­techniques vis-à-vis fellow exponents. At this, the guru, fresh after his evening bath in the com-pound’s pond and sitting cross-legged on the black floor, took a break from the Lalita ­Sah­asranamam he would chant simultaneously at a low-pitch—and looked at the pupil. Not utt­ering a word, the 65-year-old got up to walk towards an inner room.

Back he came, with a stock of memories that he was suddenly keen to unveil, much to the pleasant surprise of Venu. The core of it went thus: Ammannur had undergone exercises with the eyes and, more critically, the breath, from a revered expert. Kunhunni Thampuran, who was the last word in his scholarship of facial acting as per the Natya Shastra tenets, had taught the boy. The training had gone on for three consecu­tive seasons—from 1936—at ­Tham­puran’s royal...

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