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Friday, July 15, 2011

MAHAKAVI VALLATHOL NARAYANA MENON


Vallathol Narayana Menon



    Vallathol Narayana Menon വള്ളത്തോള്നാരായണമേനോന് (1878–1958)) popularly known as Mahakavi Vallathol, was one of the celebrity poets in Malayalam language, spoken in the South Indian state of Kerala. Vallathol was born in Chennara, near Tirur in Malappuram of Kerala. Up to his 27 years he lived in Chennara and wrote so many poems after that he moved toCheruthuruthi Born in 1878 and died in March 1958.
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He is the author of the famous Sahithya Manjari. He got the title, Mahakavi for his Mahakaavyam 'Chitrayogam'. He played a prominent role in setting up the Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthy near the banks of Bharathapuzha. Later this place is known as Vallathol Nagar .Vallathol wrote predominantly in Malayalam, the language of Kerala. Along with  Maha Kavi Kumaranasan and Maha Kavi Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer he was part of a highly creative period in Malayalam literature. Influenced by Rabindrath Tagore, Gandhi and Karl Marx, as well as by the Sanskrit classics, Vallathol's poetry evolved from its classical beginnings to increasing expression of nationalist and broadly socialist sentiment. He wrote in a variety of forms, using both Sanskrit and Dravidian meters. He did not know English. Vallathol's many works include the mahakavya (a form of epic poem), Chitrayogam (1914), and the narrative poems Magdalena Mariyam Mary Magdalene (1921) and Kochu Sita (1928), as well as 11 volumes containing his collected romantic poems entitled Sahityamanjari. In addition to subjects from nature and the lives of ordinary people, Vallathol's opposition to the indignities of the caste system and the injustices suffered by the poor form the themes of many of his poems. His own struggle with deafness from his early twenties also features in some works. Vallathol's poetry has been translated into English and Russian as well as Hindi.. Kerala Kalamandalam - The temple of classical arts - It is the realisation of a poet's dream, of a life of dedication, of a journey through the agonies of creation, of the ecstasies of fulfillment.Mahakavi Vallathol was forty nine years old when the idea struck him like a ton of bricks. He had been to a friend's house in Kunnamkulam to witness a performance of Kathkali Several connoisseurs like him were there. They had come with great expectations. The performance was deplorable, shocking. The Mahakavi felt scandalised that this unique art form, well recognised as total theatre, should have fallen to such low depths. He took a silent vow that night. He would dedicate the rest of his life to the resurrection of Kathakali.
The stunning depression that followed some years after the First World War further ruined the classical arts of Kerala. It was only the strength of character and determination of a few dedicated veterans and an occasional shot in the arm by an isolated patron that kept the flame alive. Kathakali or other classical arts could not attract talented youth in numbers as they offered no source of decent livelihood. No wonder the artists who performed before the poet at  Kunnamkulam  Once the idea got into him, theMahakavi did not waste any time. He called together all his friends and got a new society registered at  Calicut in 1927. He christened it the KERALA KALAMANDALAM . To raise funds for an institution that did not offer a monetary return was not an easy matter. The Mahakavi therefore ventured on a new way of getting money. He got the government approval to start a raffle. It took him and his friends three years to collect a reasonable sum before they could hold the draw at the famous Guruvayur Temple in 1930. The net proceeds of the raffle amounting to Rs. 75,000/ became the capital of Kalamandalam.
The real functioning of the Kalamandalam began in 1930 at the Kakkat Madhom premises at Kunnamkulam. The Mahakavi felt that the institution needed more space and facilities. Manakkulam Mukunda Raja, friend and colleague of the Mahakavi in this venture came forward and offered his premises at Ambalapuram, a few kilometres off Trichur to house the Kalamandalam. When the Kalamandalam was shifted there, the Mahakavi also came and stayed at Ambalapuram so that he could devote his personal attention to the students and teachers. He believed that artists should have a reasonable education and awareness of our classical literature and epics. So he persuaded  Kuttikrishna Marar a rare renowned scholar of Kerala to join the institution to teach the students.
By 1936 a reasonably spacious compound was secured on the banks of the  Bharathapuzha at Cheruthuruthy and a building put up at considerable expense. The institution was shifted to the new site and started functioning there from 1937. Kalamandalam had established name of its own by then. Students came from different parts of the world to take advantage of the systematic training available there under the direct supervision of the Mahakavi. They included famous danseuse Ragini Devi and the great choreographer and dancer of international renown,  Guru Gopinath The Mahakavi insisted that the teachers of the institution be the very best available. Thus he secured the services of great masters like Guru Kunju Kurup, Pattikkanthodi Ravunni Menon and Kavalappara Narayan Nayar to teach the actor students, Venkatakrishna Bhagavathar to teach music, Moothamana Namboothiripad to teach Chenta and Venkachan Pattar to teach the Maddalam.
In addition to his poetry, Vallathol also translated the Sanskrit Rig Veda and Valmiki's  Ramayana into Malayalam verse, as well as producing a prose translation of the Puranas. He was awarded the prestigious honour of  Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1955.
Vallathol actively participated in the Nationalist movement. He attended the all India Conferences of the Indian National Congress in 1922 and 1927 and rejected the Royal Honour bestowed upon him by Prince of Wales during his India visit (1922). Vallathol remained a great admirer of Mahathma Gandhi and wrote the famous poem "ente Gurunathan" (My Great Teacher) in his praise. He wrote several patriotic poems hailing India's nationalist movement.He has been the recipient of the Government of India's civilian award Padma Bhushan (1955)
   Kerala Kalamandalam - The temple of classical arts - It is the realisation of a poet's dream, of a life of dedication, of a journey through the agonies of creation, of the ecstasies of fulfilment. Mahakavi Vallathol was forty nine years old when the idea struck him like a ton of bricks. He had been to a friend's house in Kunnamkulam to witness a performance of Kathakali. Several connoisseurs like him were there. They had come with great expecta- tions. The performance was deplorable, shocking. The Mahakavi felt scandalised that this unique art form, well recognised as total theatre, should have fallen to such low depths. He took a silent vow that night. He would dedicate the rest of his life to the resurrection of Kathakali.
    The stunning depression that followed some years after the first world war further ruined the classical arts of Kerala. It was only the strength of character and determination of a few dedicated veterans and an occasional shot in the arm by an isolated patron that kept the flame alive. Kathakali or other classical arts could not attract talented youth in numbers as they offered no source of decent livelyhood. No wonder the artists who performed before the poet at Kunnamkulam shocked him. It was that shock however, that saved Kathakali.
   Once the idea got into him, the Mahakavi did not waste any time. He called together all his friends and got a new society registered at Calicut in 1927. He christened it the "Kerala Kalamandalam". To raise funds for an institution that did not offer a monetary return was not an easy matter. The Mahakavi therefore ventured on a new way of getting money. He got the government approval to start a raffle. It took him and his friends three years to collect a reasonable sum before they could hold the draw at the famous Guruvayoor temple in 1930. The net proceeds of the raffle amounting to Rs. 75,000/ became the capital of Kalamandalam.
    The real functioning of the Kalamandalam began in 1930 at the Kakkat Madhom premises at Kunnamkulam. The Mahakavi felt that the institution needed more space and facilities. Manakkulam Mukunda Raja, friend and colleague of the Mahakavi in this venture came forward and offered his premises at Ambalapuram, a few kilometers off Trichur to house the Kalamandalam. When the Kalamandalam was shifted there, the Mahakavi also came and stayed at Ambalapuram so that he could devote his personal attention to the students and teachers. He believed that artists should have a reasonable education and awareness of our classical literature and epics. So he persuaded Kutti Krisha Marar, a rare renowned scholar of Kerala to join the institution to teach the students.
By 1936 a reasonably spacious compound was secured on the banks of the Bharathapuzha at Cheruthuruthy and a building put up at considerable expense. The institution was shifted to the new site and started functioning there from 1937. Kalamandalam had established name of its own by then. Students came from different parts of the world to take advantage of the systematic training available there under the direct supervision of the Mahakavi. They included famous danseuse Ragini Devi and the great choreographer and dancer of international renown, Guru Gopinath. The Mahakavi insisted that the teachers of the institution be the very best available. Thus he secured the services of great masters like Guru Kunju Kurup, Pattikkanthodi Ravunni Menon and Kavalappara Narayan Nayar to teach the actor students, Venkatakrishna Bhagavathar to teach music, Moothamana Namboothiripad to teach Chenta and Venkachan Pattar to teach the Maddalam.
The very first batch of students was indeed a remarkable one. They included Ananda Sivaram who later went abroad and established himself as a dancer of international repute. Two others, Madhavan and Kelu Nair also left traditional Kathakali to gain glory as dancers. The only actor who stayed behind in the traditional scenes was Krishan Nayar. He has, from the days of his graduation, stayed at the top and has been truly christened Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair.
The Mahakavi conceived of the Kalamandalam as the temple of all classical art forms of Kerala. Mohiniyattam, the Kerala counterpart of Bharatanatyam had fallen into decay at the close of the last century. The Mahakavi decided to revive this exquisite dance. After scanning the entire state, he was able to locate one Smt. Kalyani Amma who could teach Mohiniyattam. The first batch of students who received training at her hands blossomed into great names in the field, Smt. Thankamani, wife of Guru Gopinath and Smt. Kalyanikutti Amma, wife of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair. Later, Kalyani Amma was sent to Shanti Niketan by the Mahakavi at the request of Tagore.  Along with Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, training in other art forms like Bharatanatyam and Thullal were also taken by Kalamandalam. Later, Kuttiyattam was added to the curriculam. Today Kalamandalam attracts students from all over the world. Its products have been touring the world presenting Kathakali at various international festivals. The Mahakavi's dream was to ressurect Kathakali and present it to the world in such a manner that its glory was fully recognised, appreciated and admired. That he achieved it even in his own lifetime is history. Today, no cultural programme in Kerala is complete without a performance of Kathakali. World festivals of art and theatre consider it a proud privilege to include Kathakali in their programmes. From the time the Kalamandalam was formed, the Mahakavi devoted all his time for the development of the institution barring the few hours he managed to save which he spent to please his first love, the muse. As the institution grew in strength and reputation, its funds began to dwindle. The Mahakavi made valiant efforts through various tours both in India and abroad to raise the funds. But the money that came in was far too little to sustain the institution. In 1942 it came very near to closure. It was at that time that the benign Maharaja of Cochin intervened and took over the management of the Kalamandalam through a royal proclamation. Since then the Kalamandalam has been sustained by the annual grant of the State Government.
    Kalamandalam is conceived as an institution that adheres to traditional Gurukulam style of teaching. It is thus a residential institution, the only exception being that a few day students attend Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam classes. The traditional syllabus followed by the Kalamandalam requires that the students start work in the early hours of the morning. Broadly the features of the trainig programme can be classified into:
The training of the limbs and torso
The training of the eyes and facial muscles
The training of abhinayam
These are all done to exacting standards as an actor is expected to express any one of the Navarasas (the nine distinctive facets of aesthetic expression) at will. Physical culture is indeed strenuous. The muscles and bones must be quite supple. This state can be achieved only by oil massage of a very rigorous nature performed during the cold months of the monsoon over a fortnight to a month. For a Kathakali artist the annual massage is a must, without which his body will become stiff. From the connoisseur's point of view, the more enjoyable portion in a Kathakali performance is Illakiyattam. Illakiyattam is different from Cholliyattam. In Kathakali the Thirassila or curtain does not fall when the prescribed dialogue between the characters on the stage is over. They continue to converse through the language of Kathakali, a language with no spoken word. Sometimes it may be a character like Bhimasena describing a whole forest before him or Arjuna describing the beauties of heaven. All this comes out of the imagination of the artist. It is therefore essential to develop the mental horizon of the artist so that he could weave delectable scenes or experience out of his imagination to delight the audience. This calls for a continuous effort in educating the artist not only in acquiring excellence in the physical aspects of a performance but also in his absorbing a vast canvass of rich knowledge of our traditional literature. The Mahakavi was particular that the artists trained in the Kalamandalam should have a sound knowledge of tradition and Indian lore. He set the standart for ensuring this by including a certain number of hours of teaching of this aspect in the regular curriculam. A student takes six whole years to pass through the Kalamandalam course for recieving a diploma in acting or music. It takes four years to acquire the diploma in playing the maddalam or chenta. A two year post graduate course is also available for specially talented artists.  When the Mahakavi breathed his last in 1958, his agonies were over. So far as the ressurection of Kathakali was concerned, he had his ecstasy when he celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the Institution in 1956 in the presence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who had acclaimed once he witnessed Kathakali that it was the last word on art. Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878–1958), Kerala’s greatest poet and most influential cultural personality of the last hundred years, is one of the trinity who brought modernism to Malayalam poetry. He founded the Kerala Kalamandalam, which brought about the renaissance of Kathakali and other performing arts.
                                         Prof. John Kurakar

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