Chavara Parukutty Amma, a pioneering female artiste in a male-dominated Kathakali dance form, Kerala

Kathakali artiste Chavara Parukutty Amma, New Indian Express

Chavara Parukutty was a Kathakali artiste of great repute and her passing away recently in Kollam at  the age of 76 due to age-related health problems had  left a void in the world of theater and art  and dance form of Kerala.  None can forget her outstanding  and impressive female presence in Kathakali in the last 50 years. She was  one of the pioneering women in Kerala in art form, where  the tradition has been that the popular dance form -Kathakali  is conventionally dominated by males who also don the roles of females in the puranic episodes drawn from the great epics of Mahabharata, the  Ramayana and others.  Her most favorite character was Kacha Devayani. Besides women roles as a Kathakali artiste, Parukutty has portrayed male roles as well.

Kathakali, Parukutty playing mother. Onmanorama - Manorama Online

Parukutty Amma, Kathakali artiste. Niyogi Books

 Born to N Shankaran Achary and Naniyamma, of Chekkattu Kizhakkethil, on February 12, 1943,  as the youngest child, she had to struggle right from the beginning to move upward in her chosen field. Being a courageous woman with burning passion, Parukutty became a kathakali artist  at a time when women were reluctant to join the art genre because it was  a male-dominated domain. She took training in  kathakali when she had begun attending pre-university at SN Women's College and later for BA Economics at Fatima Matha National College. Her mentor was  Mathupilakattu Gopala Panicker and her Guru's holistic training gave her a good foundation in this field.  She gave her debut performance at the Devi temple of Kottankulanagara at the tender age of 14. Her additional training under maestro  Mankulam Vishnu Namboodri  stood her in good stead and gave her the needed confidence  and ability to play any female roles from the Puranas. Besides holistic approach, the tricky techniques imparted by her Guru gave her  more trust to play out any female role. Yet another challenge was to perform the whole night as the only female artiste far away from home and  she had to be content with minimum facilities meant for women.

Chavara Parukutty Amma, Onmanorama - Malayala Manorama

In the last 50 years She had not only played the roles of important women characters but also made an indelible mark in Kathakali by dint of hard work and sincere dedication. Through her impressive improvisation, innate skills and subtle dance movements, she won the audience including numerous critics.  That she was a successful artiste in a male-dominated world of Kathakali  proves how best she sustained her talents to remain visible to the  sensitive audience and how much hard work she would have put in to become successful in this field. By her  dedicated participation she added  aesthetic beauty and dignity  to this native art form  of Kerala.  

Kathakali artiste Chavara Parukutty. Onmanorama - Manorama Online

Parukutty played a variety of roles taken from the Hindu mythology. It is mentioned that she had donned most costumes in kathakali, except the red beard (chuvanna thadi). The one that is close to her heart was that of  Kacha Devayani, her most favorite character. She won the heart of  good-looking katcha who descended from the heaven to study under her father. Fallen in love with him at the very first sight,  her enthusiasm for him was full to the brim and her enticements and facial expressions  that changed from aversion to affection toward Katcha would make the audience spell-binding, a difficult act in which she was an adept.  Her role as Kunti, mother of Pandavas in the Mahabharatta was  equally a  challenging one, particularly when she tried hard to win over her son Karna to the side of Pandavas. It would be packed with emotions and anxiety at the very thought that Karna would draw swords against her own sons in the great  Kurushetra war.

She was also an expert in the role of Malathi  in NIzhalkoothu and it was  is a difficult role showing abundant affection for her husband  and son initially. Then she turned into a monster and tore her own son into two halves as a punishment for her sorcerer husband who would rather save his own life than the lives of Pandavas.

When performing with veterans and others in kathakali, never had she failed to draw the attention of her rasikas throughout her performing career. The special talent about Parukutty is her improvisations and imaginative gestures  that always fell within the limit of grammar of that art form.  Parukutty's maiden performance was that of  Lalittha  which  normally any female artiste  would  prefer to play.  A charming and bewitching woman, a boothakana (a female demon) who was sent by king Kamsa to kill infant Krishna who would kill him if he grew up to be a man. 

 In the later years, Parukutty  played several female roles such as Urvasi, Panchali, Damayanthi, Chitalekha, etc and each one of them is a memorable performance with a perfusion of various emotions ranging from joy to sorrow, and ecstasy to aversion.  No body can question her versatility when she stands before the stage and transforms herself into that  given character. 

 Chavara Parukutty.

She was conferred Kalamandalam award for excellence in acting besides Mathrubhoomi Grihalakshmi award, she received many awards for her contribution to  kathakali. It is a fact that kathakali is not women's forte, but Chavara Parukutty Amma, who is survived by only daughter, a well known dancer,  impressed on the young prospective  girls that '' if you have  will power, passion and determination backed by hard work  you can compete with men in  any field and made a lasting mark on it. All you need is patience and the ability to face criticisms with a positive mind''. Chavara Parukutty approached certain difficult characters  with stark contrast  to unveil the subtleties of Kathakali she had grasped in a career spanning more than 60 years.