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Heritage sans History

Girish Karnad

By Sudha Gopalakrishnan
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2011, PP.196


In 1988, I had just been appointed the Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and had  finished chairing the first meeting of my Governing Council, when I was approached by a frail figure, grey-haired and bearded, clad, if I remember correctly, in saffron. He introduced himself as Appukuttan Nair, a name I recognized immediately as that of a scholar of Kerala performing arts. 'If nothing is done immediately, Kutiya-ttam will die,' he said, in a voice which imme-diately grabbed my attention, since it had a note of genuine panic very different from the usual wheedling tone of the fund-seekers. 'The last Guru, Ammanur Madhava Chakyar, is old and extremely depressed. He is afraid he may live to witness  the form die. There are no students and there is no money to pay for the basic facilities of performance or teaching.' I was taken aback, because my predece-ssor, Dr. Narayan Menon, was from Kerala and yet, in my discussions with him after I had taken over, hadn't even mentioned the problem. 'Didn't Dr Menon do anything?' I asked and got the answer, 'He had time only for Balasaraswathi.' Anyway, thanks to Appukuttan who continued to hound me  after the meeting-he was a master 'hounder'-the Akademi for-med a Committee consisting of  Keshav Kothari, the Secretary of the Akademi, Bhas-kar Chandavarkar, Ashok Ranade and Dr. Kiran Seth of SPIC MACKAY.  The Commi-ttee visited Margi in Thiruvananthapuram and Iranjalakuda to study what could be done and recommended that these two centres together needed at least Rs five lakhs a year to survive. Our Financial Adviser was aghast at first. He told me it was not within the powers of the Akademi to sanction such a large sum and in any case, no one in Delhi had heard of Kutiya-ttam. Fortunately, I was able to persuade him that there was a real crisis: Chakyar was the last living link in a tradition that went back  at least 1200 years and carried in himself the potential for survival of one of the oldest-if not the oldest-continuous performance traditions in the world. If he died, the whole art-form would be lost. Many performing art-forms in India have died out during the last two centuries in this fashion, since a performance tradition needs  living teachers to hand down the discipline to the next generation. The authenticity of present-day Mohiniyattam, for instance, has been questioned on these ...

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