Haritha Thamban: I wanted to do what I could for the art of Kannur, theyyam
Dressed in a black cotton sari lined with golden threads, wearing a manikkayar (a red rope with bells) and kalthala on his leg, he acts on a stage that has a red figure in the center. The 24-year-old Kannur bharatanatyam dancer had a unique thought in mind while organizing her called thematic dance performance, giving North Kerala's art form a platform outside her home district.
There have been court cases against taking theyyam out of Kannur and, therefore, there are restrictions to explore their potential, says Haritha, whose program was a thematic presentation of pottan theyyam. I chose this version because it is against caste discrimination, says the young woman, and adds that Soorya Krishnamoorthy urged her to work on that issue. “While we were talking about theyyam once, he said that artists like us should do everything possible to replace it, especially because I come from Kannur. My mother, Dr. Latha Edavalath, had done her research on theyyam and bharatanatyam. Once, during an informal conversation, my friend Manuraj, who is a theyyam artist, sang only a few lines of a song and urged me to dance. At that time, the idea of this project caught my attention.
Interestingly, pottan theyyam is named as it presents an idea of superintelligence. It's another name of Shiva also, says Haritha, who is also a researcher in Kalamandalam. I could see that the letters of pottan theyyam, transmitted from generation to word of mouth, in themselves are quite difficult to handle due to their colloquial nature. However, Manu helped me structure it a bit and another friend, Ashokan, helped me understand the meanings, she says.
An artist named Gopi and Haritha's mother also shared the lyrics she had from her research days. The musician Kanjangad Ramachandran put together a classical version of his music, which is a mixture of thottam and classical, with Sivej Krishna Dev singing and Haridev playing mridangam. It was a considerable effort of the team to structure it in a bharatanatyam format, says the dancer, which took about four months to shape. Finding musicians who can handle both the thottam and the classic was also a challenge, since their rhythms, ragas and more are quite different.
Harithat has used the mudras and symbolism of both bharathanatyam and theyyam in the performance. “Though the theyyam presents three types of pottans - Devi, Nandikesha and Shiva - as I perform alone, I have taken only Shiva’s Chandala version, customizing the story a bit,” says Haritha. The story goes on to show Shiva n’s Chandala form in an inebriated condition. It was challenging to do that in bharatanatyam, she reveals. The performance also shows the pottan stunning Sankaracharyar with intellectual questions on discrimination.
The first performance was in Kannur, a few months ago. It is my father Thamban Kambrath who called him Chilambu. I told Soorya, sir, that I did the acting and he invited me to perform it in Thiruvananthapuram, ”explains Haritha, whose gurus are his mother and his aunt Kalakshethra Vidyalakshmi, who had also done nattuvangam for Chilambu.
After the first show, attended by people like Minister Kadannappally Ramachandran and MLA T V Rajesh, she was also invited to perform at the Legislative Assembly, where she is probably the first artist to dance.
Haritha says she wore a black cotton sari so that the essence of theyyam is not lost in the usual silk bharatanatyam attire. “I also wanted to eliminate the conventional red color associated with theyyam. Anyway, he had a red theyyam figurine on the stage, against the black background. The color could represent Chandala's feeling quite well. And the manikkayar on the leg increased their feeling.
Ask him about the connection between theyyam and bharatanatyam, and the artist says: In simple terms, the interpreter theyyam represents God Himself, while the bharatanatyam dancer represents the devotee, says Haritha.
The dancer, who graduated in visual media, is also a first-degree holder in M A Bharatanatyam of Kannur University. She has been performing with the Lasya Fine Arts company throughout the country and has choreographed and written dance dramas for it.