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Madavur Vasudevan Nair
Compiled by C Ambujakshan Nair and A Vaidyanathan
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January 6, 2007

Vasudevan Nair was born on April 7, 1929 at Madavur in Thiruvananthapuram district. His father was Karottu Puthenveettil Rama Kurup and mother Kalyaniamma studied music. He has five brothers and one sister. Even from his childhood, he had interest in music, bhajans and Kuthiyottapattukal. His brothers actively participated in bhajan recitals. His elder brother shared his knowledge in Sanskrit and all Mahabharatha and Ramayana stories. Plenty of Kathakali performances were held in Madavur and his brother took the 9 year old Vasudevan Nair to see Kathakali and explained about the dance form. This helped Vasudevan Nair develop an interest in Kathakali. Even at that age, he cried many times while seeing the "verpadu" of Nala Damayanthi in Nalacharitham part two.

Vasudevan Nair started his Kathakali training under Madavur Parameswaran Pillai when he was studying in 5th Standard and in a period of six months, his initial stage performance was done at Madavur as Bhanumathi and Utharan in Utharaswayamvaram. From the initial stage, the important village elders (Nattu Bramanimar) were interested in developing his skills in Kathakali. He trained in Kathakali under Madavur Parameswaran Pillai for three years and performed Kathakali in his Kathakali Yogam. In this period he got a chance to do the role of Bhanumathi along with Duryodhana played by Guru Chengannur Raman Pillai at Manthara temple.

The Kathakali lovers in Madavur frequently advised Vasudevan Nair's elder brother to take a step in giving him good training with a renowned Kathakali guru. During this period, Kurichi Kunjan Panicker asan came to Ithikkara and stayed there for 2 months to give Kathakali training. Knowing of this, his brother took Vasudevan Nair to Ithikkara as per his request where he stayed and got two months Kathakali training from Panicker asan. Oyoor Kochu Govinda Pillai, Arkkannur Krishna Pillai and Attingal Krishna Pillai asan were also with Panicker asan in Ithikkara.

Once in Panimoola temple, Kathakali guru Chengannur Raman Pillai asan played the role of Ravanan and Vasudevan Nair was Doothan. He got a scare on hearing the sound (alarcha) made by Ravanan. That day the role of Ramba played by an artiste was not satisfactory for asan. He told the organizers that instead of the artist currently slotted, why not allot the role of Ramba to the boy who had taken the role of Doothan. This was the first stamp of approval by Chengannur asan. On hearing of this, all the Kathakali lovers in Madavur requested Vasudevan Pillaiís brother to take him to Chengannur asan for further study in Kathakali. So his brother took him to Chengannur.

Asan was busy and he was about to leave for a Kathakali program. He said he would be conducting Kathakali classes at Thoovayur in Kadambanadu after the festival season. Asan did not have any male child and on seeing Vasudevan Pillai, asan's wife felt her maternal instincts rise. So she collected his address and told them that she would inform the date of training at Thoovayur.

When asan started his journey to Thoovayur, his wife asked him why he had not informed the boy from Madavur regarding the training (kachakettu) in Thoovayur. Asan replied that so many of them approached him for classes and he could not possibly take all of them to Thoovayur. Finally, on her insistence, asan told his wife to send a post card to Vasudevan Nair to come to Thoovayur. Accordingly, his brother took Vasudevan Nair to Thoovayur, where he started his training under Chengannur asan along with a few other students. He soon gained asanís attention and affection. Asan stopped the Thoovayur class in a month's time but brought Vasudevan Nair to his house to continue his further studies there. Asan treated him as his son and continued to train him for 12 years. Asan took him to many Kathakali programs and thus he became a familiar face to all Kathakali lovers in Kerala.

Asan trained him to perform all roles in Kathakali, especially Kottaram Kathakali. With the help of Attingal Krishna Pillai asan and Thuravur Madhavan Pillai asan he got a chance to perform a purappad vesham at Kottaram Kaliyogam at Thiruvananthapuram. He was then declared as a Kottaram Kathakali actor. Chengannur asan had a lot of respect for Chennithala Kochu Pillai Panicker and while attending a Kathakali show at Kuttamperur near Mavelikara, asan went to Chennithala to see Kochu Pillai Panicker asan. Vasudevan Pillai also went along with asan. The next day Kochu Pillai Panicker asan died. Thus he was lucky in getting the last blessing from the great master.

When Mankombu Sivasankara Pillai went with Mrinalini Sarabhai to Ahmedabad, for years Kudamalur Karunakaran Nair was actively doing only female Kathakali roles on southern stages. During this period, Madavur Vasudevan Nair was very much in demand for female roles. He did female roles with Chengannur asan, Mankulam Vishnu Nambuthiri, Pallippuram Gopalan Nair, Harippad Ramakrishna Pillai, Oyoor Govinda Pillai and Chennithala Chellappan Pillai till the arrival of Sivasankara Pillai from Ahmedabad.

He joined Kalamandalam and served for ten years. Kalamandalam Rajasekharan trained in Kathakali under him at Kalamandalam. He performed Kathakali in foreign countries on a 4 month tour along with Kerala Kalamandalam troupe. After the tour, the people of Madavur headed by the Madavur Panchayath President Mr. Devadas, honored him. On this occasion, Mavunni Matathil Nambuthiri presented a 5 sovereign gold chain and a gold medal to him. That day a Kathakali performance Keechakavadham and Rajasooyam was presented. The role of Keechakan was allotted to Madavur and Jarasandhan to Chengannur asan. In his young age, he got to do many such presentations.
Madavur Vasudevan Nair as Keechakan
Near the house of Chengannur asan is the Thrikkayil temple where Kathakali was performed by asan and his sishyas. Every year, asan proposed staging Sreerama Pattabhishekam in Kathakali but the story would finally change to something else.

On November 27, 1980, Pattabhishekam in Kathakali was performed at the temple with Madavur Vasudevan Nair as Sreerama. Chengannur asan was not well on that day, but he heard the Kathakali music and the drum sounds. The next day he passed away. Vasudevan Nair was with asan when he breathed his last.

Vasudevan Nair has a special ability to perform all veshams done by asan, such as Jarasandhan, Ravanan, Keechakan, Duryodhanan and Hanuman. Those who enjoyed seeing Asan's veshams, can derive the same enjoyment by seeing Madavur's portrayals too.
Scene from Keechakavadham
Madavur Vasudevan Nair as Keechakan
and Kalamandalam Krishna Prasad as Syrandri
Scene from Keechakavadham
Madavur Vasudevan Nair as Keechakan
and Thalavadi Aravindan as Valalan
Vasudevan Nair sang Kathakali padangal on the radio. He has the capacity to perform Kathakali vocal also. After resigning from Kerala Kalamandalam, he settled near Vallikkeezhu Alattukadavu temple at Kollam, where he has taken charge as the Principal of Kalabharathi Kathakali Vidyalayam at Pakalkuri near Parippally. He is one of the busiest Kathakali performers.

He has received many honors and awards - Thulaseevanam Award, Kalamandalam Award, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Manavaseshi Fellowship, Rangakulapathi Award by Kottakkal Arya Vaidyasala, Kaladarpana Award and Veerasringhala from Governor Sukhadev Singh Kang in 1997.

Madavur Vasudevan Nair has devoted his whole life to Kathakali and still at the age of 77, he is the busiest Kathakali performer in Kerala. He leads a peaceful but not retired life, in Vallikkeezhu near Kollam with his wife, son and daughter. His daughter Ganga Thampi, the Bharatanatyam exponent, teaches Bharatanatyam at Kalakshetra in Chennai.

Madavur Vasudevan Nair
Kathakali Acharyan
Kavanadu (Post), Kollam 691003
Phone: (91 Ė 474) - 2793049