Koodiyattam in the City of Pearls
- Mridula Anand, Hyderabad
e-mail: silambam05@yahoo.com
August 13, 2009 

VIRASAT'09, the series hosted by SPICMACAY Hyderabad, showcased a unique Koodiyattam performance by Margi Madhu on August 8, 2009, held in the sprawling University of Hyderabad campus. Koodiyattam is the Sanskrit theatre tradition of Kerala and has been declared as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO. Notably it is for the first time that UNESCO has selected art forms from across the world to bestow recognition as part of its effort to safeguard expressions of oral heritage and traditional culture. Koodiyattam deals with the plays of eminent Sanskrit dramatists such as Bhasa, Harsha, Kalidasa, Mahendravikrama and Saktibhadra. Firmly rooted in the culture of Kerala, it has the toughest and the most detailed training in facial expression, especially of the eye. 
The program was preceded by a three day workshop with the introductory piece on the final day being performed by students who attended the workshop held by Margi Madhu. Son of celebrated guru Moozhikkulam Kochukuttan Chakyar, Margi Madhu learnt Koodiyattam at Margi Foundation, based in Thiruvananthapuram, under Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar and Moozhikulam Kochukuttan Chakkyar. He was awarded the Junior Research Fellowship to explore the dying art by the Government of India and was conferred the Sanskrit National Award and the Yuva Kala Ratna Award. He has also performed in the prestigious Kennedy Center at Washington DC, USA and in Japan, Singapore, Germany, France, Italy and UK. Along with his elder brother Narayanan he has been striving to bring back audiences to an art that would have long become extinct. 

Having started 15 minutes behind schedule, the student recital showcased their enthusiasm to learn but also proved that this art form, as with any other, requires intense and extended training which cannot be achieved in just 3 days. The story depicted was one of a proud lion who angers the sun who dries up the rain thus destroying the forest. The lion, in fear, calls his minister - an elephant that brings in a peacock and brings rain. Since 3 days is too short a time to master an art form, the students looked less confident and did not fully bring out the expressions so integral to Koodiyattam. Mention should be made of the students dancing as the peacock and lion who showed the required expressions.

Margi Madhu made a grand entrance onto stage behind a screen held to the accompanying beats of the 'mizhavu' ably played by Kalamandalam Ratheesh and Anoop and 'Edakka' by Kalanilayam Rajan. The mastery over their instruments enhanced an already powerful performance. Dr. Indu gave a brief introduction to the hand gestures which greatly helped the audience follow the highly theatrical and complex performance. The first piece told Prahlad's story. The change of tone and pace of the drums for Prahlad and Hiranyakashipu and an elaborate fight between Narasimha and Hiranyakashipu were the highlights of the show. The dancer appeared in the role of the Sutradhaar who explains the virtues of Lord Vishnu in 3 main stories- Narasimha, Rama and Vamana.

The involvement and talent of the dancer was evident when the audience was transported with him to the court of King Hiranyakashipu. The effort needed to bring to completion such an elaborate program involves effort by the makeup man, Kalamandalam Satheesan, and the accompanying percussion artists. At this day and age where live orchestras are being replaced by recorded music for various reasons, this is one dance form where the orchestra also performs with the artist and cannot be done away with anytime soon.

A beautiful evening spent enjoying a dramatic and complicated art form from God's own country!

Mridula Anand is the Artistic Director of Silambam Hyderabad.