Crowdfunding campaign to save 1,000 years old theatre art

Lifestyle, Health

New Delhi: To preserve the centuries old theatre art form of Koodiyattam, a recently launched crowdfunding campaign seeks to fund the training of a new generation of artists in the art form. The campaign is aimed at protecting the art form from dying out for want of patronage and interest in the modern world.   

The Nepathya Centre for Koodiyattam in Kerala is being supported by Sahapedia, the online encyclopedia of Indian arts and culture, in its goal to raise Rs 20 lakh via the crowdfunding platform BitGiving. Koodiyatam, believed to be the only surviving form of ancient Sanskrit theatre in the world, draws on the plays of Sanskrit dramatists of antiquity.   

It is said to have followed an unbroken tradition for more than 1,000 years in the state of Kerala. A highly stylized art form, Koodiyattam evolved its unique theatre grammar over centuries with its own complex conventions, gestures and expressions, which require many years of arduous training to master.   

Once limited to temples, Koodiyattam emerged on to performance stages and international audiences in the 1950s, thanks to the efforts of celebrated gurus such as Mani Madhava Chakyar, Painkulam Rama Chakyar and Ammanur Madhava Chakyar.   

However, what remains today is merely 50 practitioners and institutions such as Kalamandalam, Margi and Ammannur Gurukulam in Kerala, that impart training in in the art form. Nepathya's founder and guru Margi Madhu said the lack of public awareness is one of the reasons for poor financial support and dearth of young artists keen to learn.   

The crowdfunding drive is also doubling up as an awareness campaign, he added. "Nepathya has been struggling to raise funds for the past 12 years. Currently, we are at risk of losing our trained artists."Training a new student takes almost a decade and each time an artist leaves, we go back to square one. We only have three senior students (and two young ones) and four drummers left because of lack of funding," Madhu said.   

An "extremely difficult sequence" to learn, Koodiyattam needs up to three years of comprehensive study of the manuscripts, choreographic texts, and acting principles; and takes a full month perform on stage. The art form has been declared as a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' by UNESCO. "It would be a tragedy and a shame if an art form that has survived for a thousand years dies on our watch. We are wholly behind Nepathya's efforts to save and popularize this ancient art.   

"Koodiyattam is intimately connected to the cultural history of Kerala and the great traditions of Sanskrit literature, we have to preserve it whichever way we can," Sudha Gopalakrishnan, executive director of Sahapedia, said. The school will use the funds raised from the campaign to enable its student artists to dedicate more of their time and efforts to learning. "The real depth of the art lies in its ability to elevate the minds of the viewers. To do that the artists themselves have to experience the pleasure of the art, and explore the depths of the performances. "They cannot do so if they are burdened by the prospect of looking for paying jobs, which is why we need funds to support them," Madhu said. PTI