Kottakkal Sivaraman: An acclaimed performing artiste, Kottakkal Sivaraman can be aptly reckoned as the first Kathakali artiste who made a strong effort and succeeded in prompting connoisseurs of Kathakali to give due recognition and encouragement for female roles in Kathakali.
Kathakali, the classical dance-drama of Kerala, South India, traditionally had the male roles basking in the limelight in terms of appreciation and superiority. This was the situation at least till the end of the first half of the 20th century Artistes performing female characters generally used to be treated as just support cast and drew little appreciation. But with the arrival of Kottakkal Sivaraman, the scenario underwent drastic change. The stalwart indisputably took female roles in Kathakali to new heights, leaving the audience and fellow artistes with no choice, but to acknowledge the power and grace of female characters.
If one is to track his earlier days, Sivaraman hails from the village of Karalmanna, located at Cherpulassery in Palakkad district of Kerala. He had Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair, his uncle as his guru, who is also the recipient of Padma Shri (one of India’s top national honour for civilians).
Kottakkal Sivaraman evolved into a performer and began his performance career with the PSV Natya Sangham, the Kathakali troupe at Kottakkal in north-central Kerala’s Malappuram district. In his pursuit to change the subordinate attitude towards female characters in a Kathakali play, Kottakkal Sivaraman by 1960s came up with a string of revolutionary ideas on stage. His efforts turned out successful and won the appreciation of aesthetes not only in his native Valluvanad, but also in central Kerala, which has been the playground for the refined Kalluvazhi style of Kathakali. Soon this due recognition echoed in other parts of Kerala.
In his more than fifty years of experience as a Kathakali actor, Sivaraman has performed many memorable female characters. He has shared the stage with actors of several generations across north and south Kerala. But it was with Padmashree Kalamandalam Gopi, another stalwart that he excelled as an outstanding pair on the Kathakali stage. Their memorable performances include the ones with Kottakkal Sivaraman as Damayanti and Gopi as Nalan; then as Kunti and Karnan and as Mohini and Rugmangadan.
Sivaraman’s portrayal of Sairandhri (Draupadi in disguise as a maid) in the Kathakali play Keechakavadham had the eminent artiste Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair in the role of Keechaka. The performance earned Sivaraman lots of opportunities to perform, which enhanced his popularity.
Even though he relishes doing female characters, Sivaraman has also adorned the make-up of male characters and performed with élan. His notable male roles in Kathakali are that of Krishna in Kuchelavrittam and as Pushkara in Nalacharitam. He has also choreographed a new play called Pingala, based on the epic Bhagavatham. In the inaugural show of the play, Sivaraman performed the lead role of Pingala.
Through hundreds of stages over the last five decades, Sivaraman has depicted a host of women characters from Indian mythology showing great emotional range and charm.
Several honours have been bestowed on Kottakkal Sivaraman. Among the noted ones are the Kendra Sangeetha Nataka Akademi award of the Government of India and the coveted Kerala State Government award – the Kathakali Puraskaram in 2009.
This veteran Kathakali artiste still exudes unmatched prowess as a performer, which he has maintained throughout his career and continues to win accolades from Kathakali connoisseurs for his versatility and classical precision.
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