Harnessing the inner strength

Harnessing the inner strength

It’s not easy to work towards preserving a traditional art form at a time when technology has taken over.

Every traditional art form is undergoing a transition of sorts but Koodiyattam, a 1800-year-old Sanskrit theatre form from Kerala, has stood the test of time, thanks to the untiring efforts of people like Usha Nangiar and master percussionist Kalamandalam Hariharan, both exponents of Koodiyattam.

The couple was in the City for a workshop as a part of Attakkalari’s latest initiative ‘The Way of the Masters’.

They used the occasion to educate and initiate young people into the art form. Sharing her experience, Usha says that she was initiated into the art when she was barely 10 years old by her father.

Over the years, she has come to symbolise innovation in female roles in Koodiyattam. She has specialised in what is called Nangiar Koothu, which has a 1200-year-old history, and is probably the oldest women’s theatre in existence.

 “When I began, there were only two or three female characters but thanks to innovation, the roles have grown and today there’s more scope for the art form than ever before. What we see is an effort to revive not only the art form but to widen the scope of female characters and add some more,” explains Usha. 

Usha and her husband Hariharan have spent a lot of time researching about Koodiyattam and contributing their bit to propagating it among the present generation.

Usha points out that people from outside Kerala come forward to preserve and take forward the art form.

 “Sadly, people from Kerala, the place where Koodiyattam originated, don’t show much enthusiasm in promoting this art form. We find people from other states evincing an interest in learning the art form,” reasons Usha.

Hariharan pitches in, “The new generation doesn’t seem to show much interest in the classical art forms. I think it has more to do with ego than anything else. Youngsters are so busy choosing their line of profession that their interest in this art is dwindling. They want immediate results for everything, which is not the case in Koodiyattam. It takes years of effort to bear fruit,” he says.  

Usha says that it takes hours of practice to master a particular sequence and more than physical movement, Koodiyattam is all about communicating through expressions.

“It’s all about harnessing the inner strength and working on getting the emotions and expressions right,” adds Usha.

The couple have a 15-year-old daughter Athira who has also been initiated into the art form by her parents.

But will she take on the mantle of preserving Koodiyattam?

“We have done our duty by teaching her the nuances of Koodiyattam. Now it is for her to decide. There is no compulsion but she performs with us whenever there’s a chance,” sums up Usha.

The couple will perform Nangiar Koothu at Ranga Shankara on May 8. 

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