How G. Venu built Natana Kairali a reputed training and performance institute

In a landmark moment for the ancient performing art of Koodiyattam, G. Venu, a non-Chakyar, has been selected for the distinguished Fellowship by Kerala Kalamandalam, a Deemed-to-be-University. This decision marks a significant advancement, as traditionally, the craft was performed predominantly by the Chakyar community.

G. Venu is an unparalleled figure in the realm of Indian traditional theatre. A master of Kathakali, he was nurtured under the guidance of legends like Chengannur Raman Pillai and Guru Gopinath. The allure of Koodiyattam captivated him when he witnessed a stirring performance by the maestro Ammannur Madhava Chakyar at Thrissur’s Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple. Struck by the dramatic potential and breadth of expression embedded within this ancient Sanskrit theatre form, Venu embarked on a life-changing journey at the age of 37.

He made the bold move to leave his secure position at the University of Calicut’s School of Drama and Fine Arts, relocating to Irinjalakuda to devote himself to Koodiyattam. Accepted into Ammannur Kalari as Ammannur Madhava Chakyar’s first non-Chakyar pupil, Venu embraced the rigorous training with dedication, serving not only as a disciple but also as an impresario to his esteemed guru.

Venu’s accomplishments include the founding of Ammannur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam in 1982. His commitment to preserving and advancing the art form is evident in his work as a teacher, helping to shape a new generation of exceptional performers. His choreographic repertoire showcases his versatility with masterful productions such as the 11-hour epic adaptation of Kalidasa’s “Sakuntalam”, and other notable works like “Vikramorvaseeyam” and “Oorubhangam”.

The revival of Nangiarkoothu, the female-centric counterpart of Koodiyattam, also owes credit to the collaborative efforts of the Ammannur Gurukulam, which was spearheaded by Madhava Chakyar with Venu playing a crucial role. Venu’s innovative choreographies in this genre have captivated audiences, illustrating his deep understanding of traditional art forms.

Venu’s scholarly pursuits and contributions have not gone unnoticed. His creation of an ingenious system for cataloging hand gestures, derived from his own research, led to authoritative publications like the Kathakali Mudra Nikhandu—a comprehensive dictionary that has become an invaluable resource for performers and academics.

UNESCO, recognizing his expertise, nominated him to the expert committee of its Asian Cultural Centre. Venu was integral in the successful bid to have Koodiyattam recognized by UNESCO as “the masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity” in 2001.

Venu has also delved deep into the expressive techniques of Koodiyattam, studying the unique breath control method of ‘Rasa vaayu’. This knowledge, imparted by his guru who learned it from Bhagavathar Kunjunni Thampuram, has been passionately applied by Venu in his Navarasa Sadhana course—a profound training module attended by scores of performers, including international artists. This innovative approach to actor training utilizes the Natyasastra’s principles and explores the myriad hues of emotional expression.

Kerala Kalamandalam has played a pivotal part in popularizing Koodiyattam beyond the constraints of caste by opening its department of Koodiyattam to all in 1966. They continue to advocate for this profound art form by honoring G. Venu with its highest accolade—a testament to his indelible impact and an affirmation of the institution’s dedication to cultural preservation and inclusivity.

Reflecting on the prestigious recognition, G. Venu reminisces about his work with the ‘World Theatre’ project in Sweden, where the remarkable nuances of Indian abhinaya became vividly clear to him. “Navarasa Sadhana” is a crystallization of that epiphany, refined through years of instruction at the InterCultural Theatre Institute in Singapore, the National School of Drama in Delhi, and finally, his own establishment, Natanakairali in Irinjalakuda, benefiting more than 2,000 artistes.

As G. Venu continues to forge his legacy, Kerala Kalamandalam’s fellowship consecrates his lifelong dedication to the art form he cherishes. It reflects a celebration of tradition, a testament to the adaptability of ancient arts, and an acknowledgment of the individuals who sustain their relevance in the contemporary world.

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