Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar (Māni Mādhava Chākyār, Devanāgarī: माणि माधव चाक्यार्, മാണി മാധവ ചാക്യാര്) (15 February 1899 - 14 January 1990) was a celebrated master performance artist and Sanskrit scholar from Kerala, South India, considered to be the greatest Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam (ancient Sanskrit drama theatre tradition) artist and authority of modern times. He was considered as the authority of Abhinaya (the classical Indian acting style) and Nātyaśāstra.
Known as "the Emperor of Rasa-Abhinaya, he had an exceptional ability to perform Rasa-Abhinaya. His Netrābhinaya was world famous and he had the ability to act only with eyes. He was well versed in all the traditional Koodiyattams and all the prabandhas used in Chakyar Koothu. He was able to explain the concepts, methods and practices of Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu in a clear and scientific way. He had an in depth study of Nātyaśāstra of Bharata Muni, as well as ways of acting which were popular in Kerala. His knowledge and mastery over both theory and practice of Koodiyattam were superb. He was a veteran teacher and practitioner of these art forms and Sanskrit.
He was the first one to take Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu outside the precincts of the temples of Kerala to all over India and to impart training in Kudiyattam to non-Chakyar disciples including foreigners. He had produced many accomplished disciples in Kutiyattam and other classical arts like Kathakali. He was a Sanskrit scholar of supreme rank and was used to give lectures and talks in Sanskrit.
He is the author of Nātyakalpadrumam - the authoritative encyclopedic treatise on all aspects of Koodiyattam. He was a Fellow of important national art academies like Sangeet Natak Akademi and recipient of coveted titles like "Nātyāchārya", "Vidūshakaratnam" and prestigious Awards like Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award etc.
Māni Mādhava Chākyār was born on February 15, 1899, in his ancestral home at Thiruvangayoor near Karayad, of Kozhikode district of Kerala. His father was Vishnu Śarma and mother was Savithri Illotamma. He belonged to the family of Māni Chakyars of North Kerala, who for centuries have been the custodians of Koodiyattam - the traditional Sanskrit theatre and Chakyar Koothu - another classical art form based on Sanskrit Champu Kavyas.
He had his training in Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam in the traditional way, under the direct guidance of his uncles who were great scholars and masters of these art forms. They were Guru Māni Parameswara Chakyar, Guru Māni Neelakandha Chakyar and Guru Māni Narayana Chakyar. He belonged to the "Mani" tradition of Koodiyattam and Chakyar Koothu which gives importance to both Rasa-abhinaya and Vachika-abhinaya.
He was a Sanskrit scholar of supreme rank. He used to give lectures in Sanskrit. He studied Alankarashastra, Nātyaśāstra, Vyakarana, Nyaya, Jyotisha, etc. in the traditional way, under great scholars such as Panditaratnam Pazhedathu Sankaran Nampoothiripad. He was the beloved student of one of the greatest Sanskrit scholars of all time His Highness Darsanakalanidhi Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran (Maharaja of Cochin). He had his higher studies in Nyayashastra and Natya Shastra under him. Mani Madhava Chakyar taught Sanskrit at Balakollasini Sanskrita Pathasala of Killikkurussimangalam.
His first performance (Arangettam) of Koodiyattam was at the age of 14 at Trikkaikkunnu Temple of North Kottayam of Malabar. He used to perform the huge number of Atiyantara koothus of Mani family (the koothus which are assigned to the family from ancient times) in large number of temples stretching entire Malabar to Thrissur. It consist of all devotional ritualistic Koothus and Kudiyattams including Anguliyanka, Mattavilasa Prahasana, Mantranka, Ezhamanka (seventh act of Ascharyachoodamani) about eight decades continuously in temples of Kerala. It includes ancient Kerala temples such as Matayikkavu Bhagavathi Temple of Kannoor, Taliparamba Rajarajeshwara Temple, Kottiyoor Perumal Temple, Lokanarkavu Temple of Vatakara, Thali (Tali) Siva Temple of Kozhikkode, Thirunavaya Navamukunda temple, Thiruvegappura Sree Mahadeva Temple, Pandamangalam Krishna temple of Kottakkal, Kotakkal Vishwambhara (Shiva) temple, Kallekkulagara Emoor Siva temple, Triprayar Sri Rama temple, Peruvanam Shiva temple of Cherpu, Avittathur Shiva Temple etc. Chakyar won high renown for the artistry of his performance in these temples, as well as in many others.
His wife, the late Smt. P.K Kunjimalu Nangiaramma, was also an expert in lady characters of Kudiyattams and was a great exponent of Nangiǎr Kūthu (Nangyar Koothu) and various Ragas and Shlokas used for the art form. she used to accompany him in the performances. She was the daughter of his uncle, Guru Māni Parameswara Chakyar.
He is considered as the all time great master of Rasa-abhinaya (enacting sentiments in their perfection) with special reference to Netrābhinaya (enacting sentiments, etc. through the beautiful and masterly movements of eyes only). He was exceptionally well in the field of Satwika-Abhinaya.
He was well known for his roles (which has importance of Satvika-Abhinaya in Koodiyattams ) like Ravana (Katti vesha), Arjuna (Pacha vesha), Udayana (Pacha vesha), Jeemootavahana (Pazhukka vesha) etc.
His abhinaya of the parts of Kutiyattam like Kailasoddhārana (lifting of Kailasa) and Pārvatī Viraha (separation of Pārvatī), enriched with the Netrabinaya and Pakarnnaattam - Abhinaya (actor playing the role of another or more than one character shifting constantly without changing costume), were widely acclaimed.
He immortalised the abhinaya of the slokas like "sikhinishalabham.." of the play Subhadradhananjayam by playing it with mere eyes. He was able to act in detail the Moths falling in and out of the lamp fire by evoking his acclaimed Netrabhinaya, with assigning different rasa's for female moth, male moth and the fire. Guru's Abhinaya of the shloka smaramyavandhyadhipateh sutayah (स्मराम्यवन्त्यािधपतेः सुतायाः ) from Bhasa's Swapnavasawadattam is also widely acclaimed one.
He was considered as a reference to Abhinaya (acting) and his ability to perform the same was considered as "the perfect" by world renowned art critics like (late) Dr. V. K Narayana Menon (Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Adviser BBC, former President of Sangeet Natak Akademi- New Delhi, National Centre for the Performing Arts- Bombay etc.). His ability to perform Netrābhinaya is considered as one of the wonders of the art world, ranking alongside the symphonies of Beethoven.
Noted art critic, renowned scholar of Sanskrit dramaturgy and former director of Samskritaranga- Chennai, Dr. V. Raghavan, had highest regard for the maestro and his Abhinaya -
"Mani Madhava Chakyar when he portrayed Arjuna on the first evening and Ravana on the second, showed himself a master of the expression of the eye".
"He had his own style. He could convey his thoughts through expressions. His eye movement was superb!"
"the greatest eye-wizard of the world."
Famous Bharatanatyam dancer Balasaraswati remarked about the maestro-
"When i say Abhinaya, oh, I can't do the abhinaya like what the great man did here yesterday"next day after Chakyar's lecture-demonstration at Madras Music Academy in 1973.
One of the leading scholar of classical Indian dances, Dr.Kapila Vatsyayan thought
"Mani Madhava Chakyar was the personification of all the greatness of this rich Indian classical art tradition" and "his Netraabhinaya is simply incomparable."
Famous dramatist Kavalam Narayana Panicker, remarks
"Mani Madhava Chakyar's forte was Satwikabhinaya. Endowed with expressive eyes; that can speak a thousand moods and a countenance that can reflect the range of human emotions in its entirety, Mani Madhava Chakkiar was the master at work" and ''"The many faces of Mani Madhava Chakyar were indeed the many faces of Kutiyattam. But whatever the costume and whatever the roles, the ability to transform himself from a mere actor to charged character was unique to Mani."
He was known for his extra ordinary ability for expressing the NavaRasas (nine Rasas) to its supreme extent and the photos of the same are and being archived in art institutions, academies such as Sangeet Natak Academy of India, and museums all over the world.
Other peculiarity of the maestro was his perfectness while reciting the shlokas in corresponding Raagas. He was considered as the last word for the Raagas in Kutiyattam also. Sangeet Nataka Akademi and various centres of All India Radio has archived the same.
He brought Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam outside s of Hindu temples. In 1949 he performed Chakyar Koothu for All India Radio, which created history since that was the fist time the art was performed outside Koothambalam. In 1955 under the leadership of the Guru, Kutiyattam was performed outside the temple for the first time in his village Killikkurussimangalam. For performing the art forms outside the temples he faced lot of problems from the hardline Chakyar community. In an interview Guru remembered
"My own people condemned my action (performing Koothu and Kutiyattam outside the precincts of the temples), Once, after I had given performances at Vaikom, they even thought about excommunicating me. I desired that this art should survive the test of time. That was precisely why I ventured outside the temple"
In 1962, under the leadership of Dr. V. Raghavan- noted art and Sanskrit scholar; Sanskrit Ranga of Madrass, invited Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar to perform Kutiyattam in Chennai. Thus for the first time in the history Kutiyattam was performed outside Kerala by his tropue. They presented at Madras on three nights, Kutiyattam scenes from three plays Abhiṣeka, Subhadrādhanañjaya and Nāgānda.
The performance of the maestro Maani Maadhava Chakyar made great impact on the people and art critics so that, Kutiyattam and Mani Madhava Chakyar became famous outside Kerala also. People outside Kerala was able to witness the extraordinary talent of the maestro. Then Mani Madhava Chakyar was invited and performed Kutiyattam at various places of North India like New Delhi and Banaras (1964). It made the critic to accept his authority in Rasa Abhinaya, Natyasastra and Kutiyattam.
After Mani Madhava Chakyar's first tour to New Delhi, he was awarded immediately with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1964 for his contributions to Chakyar Koothu and Kutiyattam, which became the first national recognition to the maestro and the art form. His supremacy in Rasa-abhinaya and Netrabhinaya and Kutiyattam became very famous and attracted lot of people towards the art form.
He performed Kudiyattam all over India and popularized the same. He along with his troop did Koodiyattam performance in places like Madras (1962, 1973 & 1977), Madhura (1962), New Delhi (1964, 1966, 1974, 1979 & 1983), Varanasi (1964 & 1979), Bombay (1973), Ujjain (1982), Bhopal (1987) etc.
The President of India, scholar and philosopher, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan invited him to perform Kutiyattam at Rashtrapati Bhavan (presidential palace) in 1964 and was impressed by the Guru's exceptional acting skill. His Kutiyattam performances, lectures and demonstrations at well known centres like Madras Music Academy in Chennai, International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi, Experimental theatre in New Delhi and Bombay, National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bombay fetched wide popularity and recognition for his Abhinaya and Kutiyattam.
He choreographed and directed acts of the plays like Kalidasa's Abhijñānaśākuntala, Vikramorvaśīya and Mālavikāgnimitra ; Bhasa's Swapnavāsavadatta and Pancharātra; Harsha's Nagananda for the first time in the history of Koodiyattam. He along with his troupe performed these Kutiyattams all over India. When his guru, His Highness Darsanakalanidhi Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran wrote a new Sanskrit champu prabandha called Prahlādacharita and requested senior artists to study and perform the same on the Chakyar Koothu stage, they said it was impossible for them to stage such a new prabandha. Then the guru asked Mani Madhava Chakiar, who was then a comparatively young artist, to try. He agreed and studied a part of the prabandha within one night and performed the same on the next day at Tripunithura - the then capital of Cochin state (1962). The incident made the scholars to accept his mastery over both Sanskrit and the classical art form. After some months, he performed entire Prahlādacharita at the same stage.
He performed Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam for All India Radio and Doordarshan for the first time, which helped to attract thousands of listeners to these traditional art forms. It was he who started demonstrations in Kudiyattam to popularise the same.
He is considered as the greatest Guru of Kutiyattam of the modern times, producing many accomplished desciples. He taught Koodiyattam for the first time to a non-Chakyar - Nambiar caste member. He was a Polish student named Maria Christopher Byrski (currently at Department of Indology, Warsaw University), who was then a research student at Banaras Hindu University, came to study the only surviving ancient Sanskrit drama Koodiyattam, from Guru around early 1960s. He stayed at Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar's home and studied Koodiyattam in its traditional Gurukula way. Lot of research scholars came to study the Sanskrit drama from the ultimate exponant of Kutiyattam and Abhinaya Mani Madhava Cakyar. Dr. Farley Richmond (University of Georgia, USA), noted Sanskrit drama scholar also studied about the ancient Sanskrit art form under Mani Madhava Chakyar by staying at his home at Killikkurussimangalam. He had filmed Rasa Abhinaya and Kutiyattam of the maestro. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay of All-India Handicrafts Board came to Guru Maani Madhava Cakyar's home to do research about the costumes used in Kutiyattam (Ahāryābhinaya) (1967). Indian theatre scholar Goverdhan Panjal (National School of Drama) studied about Koothambalams and Kutiyattam under the Guru (1975).
When Kerala Kalamandalam (a school for the performing arts) was founded by Vallathol Narayana Menon (famous Malayalam poet who reformed Kathakali), he invited authority of Rasa-abhinaya, Mani Madhava Chakyar as the master trainer for Rasa-abhinaya to the Kathakali students. Later Kathakali Yogam- Katathandu, Kerala Kalamandalam, PSV Natyasangham- Kottakkal and Gandhi Seva Sadanam Kathakali Academy- Perur used his services as visiting professor of Rasa-abhinaya and taught advanced students in Kathakali and Kutiyattam.
He is known as “the master who gave eyes to Kathakali”. His influence on the classical performing arts of Kerala is famous. Many Koodiyattam, Kathakali, Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam artists were trained by this great master. Kathakali artists including legendary Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Guru Kelu Nair, Guru Anand Shivram, Guru Kalamandalam Madhavan, Guru Gopinath, Sadanam Krishnan Kutty are his disciples.
Guru, who was an eminent teacher and performer opened a Gurukulam (training centre) in 1982 for teaching Kutiyattam, Chakyar Koothu, Nangyar Koothu and related artforms at Killikkurussimangalam(Lakkidi). After Guru's death it was named as Padmasree Mani Madhava Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam in memory of the Guru. This institution still keeps its tradition and plays a major role in Kutiyattam teaching, revival and performance.
Guru, who had dedicated all his life for Kutiyattam was very much concerned about the fate of this classical art form. Māni Mādhava Chākyār's conversation with famous Bharatanatyam dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, while latter visitited Guru at his residence a year before his death, reflects his anxiety
At least Bharatanatyam is now world famous, with thousands of new votaries. What about Koodiyattam?.....I have done what I can. It has not been easy. One has to sacrifice a lot to learn Koodiyattam. How many persons will be ready for it these days? Will there be an audience capable of imbibing it?
Mani Madhava Chakyar is recipient of innumerable Awards, Titles and Degrees. He is one of the most felicitated artist from Kerala. His first major recognition came from HH Bhattan Thampuran (Bhatta Raja) of Kodungallur himself at the age of 22. Bhattan Thampuran awarded him with a Mudramothiram (signed ring) (1921). Although he received a lot of awards, till death Mani Madhava Chakyar considered this Mudramothiram as the prestigious award that he ever got.
He received the most prestigious sacred Vīrasringhala or Veerashringhala (It’s a kind of Golden Bracelet, given to the greatest artist/scholar of that era) from the great Taliparamba Rajarajeshwara Temple (1923). He is the youngest one to receive this precious award, which is being given to the scholars of the supreme rank, only by the unanimous approval of a special body of temple consisting of eminent scholars. Till date no one else has received a Veerashringhala from there after Mani Madhava Chakyar. Another major Vīrasringhalas that he received are; from Valiya Thampuran of Kottakkal Kovilakam (1952), from Urpassikkavu of Thalassery, from His Holiness Jagadguru Shri Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham (1961), from Samoothiri Raja of Kozhikkode, given at the eve of Koodiyattam performance at Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple (1964) and from Tripunithura Kovilakam (1989).
He was honoured with ponnada (a kind of silk cloth given as a gesture of honour and respect) from Maharani (Queen) Of Travancore, presented through Mahakavi Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer at Vaikom Mahadeva Temple. He was honoured by HH. Rajah of Palakkad by presenting a Keshabharam Kireetam at Hemambika Temlpe of Kallekkulangara (1962). He has received Gold Medals from Valiya Raja of Katathanadu, Pallikkunnu Bhagavathy Temple of Kannoor, Avittathur (1962), Delhi Experimental theatre (1964) etc.
In 1930, he was awarded with the title Nātyāchārya (Guru of Natya) by Kadathanadu Valiya Thampuran (Raja of Kadathanadu). He received the title Vidūshakaratna, again from the Taliparamba Rajarajeshwara Temple (1954) for his excellence in performing “vidūshaka” part in Koodiyattam. He was honoured by Fine Arts Society of Kochi by giving the title Anushtanakalapravina.
He has received major National and International Awards and Fellowships such as
He was the first Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam artist to receive each of these recognitions.
He has received numerous Honours and Certificates from distinguished institutions and individuals such as Akhila Bharata Sanskrit Sammelan (World Sanskrit Conference) - New Delhi, Samskrita Ranga - Chennai, Fifth World Sanskrit Conference - Banaras, Dr.S. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh (Maharaja of Kasi ), Satyanarayana Sinha, Bishnu Ram Medhi, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, Maharaja of Kollengode, Vallathol Narayana Menon, Dr. V. Raghavan, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Dr. V.K Narayana Menon, Dr.Kapila Vatsyayan etc. etc.
Even though Guru Mani Madhava Chakkiyar received lot of national recognitions art critics widely believe that he truly deserved a lot more and recognitions came very late. RKG (Editor, The Illustrated Weekly, Columnist for Times of India) observes,
..I felt angry when I learnt that a great artist like Mani Madhava Chakyar was awarded a mere Padma Shri. A man of his artistic genius and erudition deserved to be decorated with the highest state honour
He has written an authoritative, award winning book (in Malayalam) on Koodiyattam called Nātyakalpadrumam (1975). This monumental work is being used as a reference by scholars and students. Natyakalpadrumam deals with all aspects of Koodiyattam in a scientific and critical manner. This book is unarguably considered as the encyclopedia of Koodiyattam. It has won the prestigious Kerala Sahitya Academi Award (1976). This book is also translated into Hindi by Sangeet Natak Akademi of New Delhi.
One of his other book is Matha Vilasam, which is about the choreography and play part (actor's manual - Attaprakara) used in Mattavilasaprahasana Kudiyattam. He has also written the Attaprakaras of Abhijñānaśākuntala, Swapnavāsavadatta, Vikramorvaśīya, Mālavikāgnimitra, Pancharātra and Nagananda (Not published).
His biography (in Malayalam), Mani Madhaveeyam (1999) was published by Department of Cultural Affairs Publications of the Government of Kerala. The book gives the picture of astonishing accomplishing and momentous life of the Guru. It gives an excellent account of his struggles and his lifelong devotion towards the art form. The book includes Guru's memoirs of his illustrious stage life spanning about 80 golden years. Book contains a lot of rare photos giving us an insight to maestro's both personal and theatre life.
Guru has written numerous articles in various journals and presented number of papers in conferences on various aspects of Koodiyattam, Abhinaya, Raagas, Natyasastra, Chakyar Koothu, Rasābhinaya in Kathakali etc.
Mani Madhava Chakyar: The Master at Work (1994, Kavalam Narayana Panikar, Central Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi) is a biographical film on the life and work of Mani Madhava Chakyar. Film shows Movie contains interview with the maestro where he explains the difficulty he had to face from hardliners when he took the traditional art forms outside temple for the first time in 1949. The film contains a session focussed on Rasa abhinaya by the maestro, where he enacts various Rasas.
Parvati Viraham: Mani Madhava Chakyar as Ravana (1993, Central Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi) features Mani Madhava Chakyar as Ravana in the Pārvatī Viraham (separation of Pārvatī) in Koodiyattam form. Movie shows the famous Pārvatī]] Viraham part of the Ascharyachodamani Kutiyattam, one of the masterpieces of the Guru. It includes the famous Pakarnnattam abhinaya of the maestro.
In Manifestations of Shiva (1980, Malcolm Leigh& Stella Kramrisch, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Asia Society, USA)- critically acclaimed documentary film; he has performed as Lord Siva in Classical Indian dance form.
Kutiyattam- Sanskrit Theater of India (Multimedia CD, Farley Richmond (University of Georgia), The University of Michigan Press, USA) contains rare videos of the maestro's Rasa Abhinaya including glimpses of his world famous Netrabhinaya. The CD also contains the audios of recital of Shlokas and play parts by him in his unique unparalleled style.
Mani Madhava Chakkiar (English, Classic Films) is a documentary film about the maestro. It shows the famous Abhinaya of the maestro in different Kutiyattams, his Chakyar Koothu performance etc. It also gives a picture of his personal life. A movie directed by Aziz (in Malayalam) about the life of the Guru also stands out.
Chakyar Koothu performance of the prabandha Prahlādacharita, Prahladacharitham Chakyar Koothu (1986, audio, Harisree Audios, Kerala) gives unique feeling of the maestro's ability in narration and recital. It is unique since he hasn't performed Prahlādacharita after the death of his guru HH Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran in 1964, except for this recording.
Many of his Koodiyattam, Chakyar Koothu performances, demonstrations, interviews etc. were documented by Doordarshan centres of New Delhi, Bombay, Bhopal, Madras, Thiruvananthapuram etc. and All India Radio and is still being broad casted all over India. Documentation of Guru's Kutiyattam performance by Doordarshan Centre Bombai with English commentary of noted art critic and scholar Dr. V. K Narayana Menon is widely acclaimed one.
Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar died at the age of 91 on 14 January 1990 in a private hospital at Ottappalam due to natural causes. His body was cremated with full honours at his Killikkurussimangalam residence. There is a memorial to the Guru at the spot of his cremation.
His birth and death anniversaries are celebrated by various cultural programmes, commemorative sessions and Kutiyattam festivals by various cultural organizations and institutes.
He is one of the most felicitated artist from Kerala and was the first recipient of all major awards for Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam. Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy's annual Koodiyattam Award is known as Maani Madhava Puraskaram as a tribute to the maestro.
Many of his films are still screened regularly at art theaters across and outside India. Guru's Kutiyattam and Chakyar Koothu performances and other documentaries are broad casted from major Doordarshan and All India Radio stations regularly (Guru himself had initiated performance of these art forms for these media for the first time).
Art and cultural festivals are organized by various associations as a dedication to the Kuddiyattam maestro regularly.