Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon
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Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon (1880–1948)
Great Kathakali reformer.
Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon (1880-1948) was a pivotal figure in the history of Kathakali, having played a crucial role in remoulding and refining its grammar in the famed Kalluvazhi tradition of the classical dance-drama from Kerala in south India. He was trained in the art form at a culture-patronising Namboodiri mansion in Vellinezhi near his home, even as his genius ensured that Menon later redrew the aesthetics of Kathakali and its future profile altogether.
Young Ravunni, a native of Chethallur in present-day Palakkad district, was groomed in Kathakali by the renowned Kalluvazhi Kuyilthodi Ittirarissa Menon at Olappamanna Mana with Kariyattil Koppan Nair and Malankattil Sankunni Nair as his co-students. Ittiraricha Menon's demise led to Ravunni Menon becoming the chief tutor at Olappamanna, since when he started handling lead roles (Aadyavasana vesham) on Kathakali stages. He was initially associated with the Manjeri Kaliyogam (Kathakali institution-cum-troupe).
Menon, who was till then said to be focused solely on the body movement aspect of Kathakali, acquired a major asset in his profession when he imbibed the essence of emotive acting (rasabhinaya) under Kunjunni Thampuran. It gave birth to a new chapter in the Kalluvazhi style, noted for its economy of space while moving the body, well-defined hand gestures, their clinical synchronisation with the musical beats and percussion accompaniment. This quantum improvement later helped him earn quite a few epoch-defining Kathakali disciples when he joined Kerala Kalamandalam in 1933 and worked there for a decade. Prominent among the pupils are Thekkinkattil Ramunni Nair, Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair and Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair (who was also his son). He was also teacher to reputed artistes like Mampuzha Madhava Panikkar, Kavungal Sankarankutty Panikkar, Kariyattil Kumaran, Kunhunni Nair, Guru Gopinath, Madhavan, Guru Kelu Nair, Sivaraman, Sivasankaran, Krishnan, Kattissery Raman, Balakrishnan and Krishnankutty Varrier.
Menon, known for his temperamental behaviour stemming from innocence, was a purist of sorts. He was a pedagogue to the core—unkind while punishing pupils in the classroom even while exhibiting retrained love to them after study hours.
On the stage, Menon was celebrated for his lead roles in the four Kottayam Thampuran plays: Kalakeyavadham, Kirmeeravadham, Bakavadham and Kalyanasougandhikam. His masterpieces also included Dakshan, Nalan in Nalacharitan Randaam Divasam, Arjunan in Subhadraharanam, Cheriya Narkasuran and Ravanan in Balivijayam, Ravanolbhavam, Kartaveerarjunavijayam and Balivadham besides minukku roles like Bhrahmanan in Santanagopalam and Rukminiswayamvaram, and Durvassavu in Ambareeshacharitam. He was known to be particular for using his own set of costume paraphernalia (kalikkoppu) all the time.
Menon's notes on the aeshtetics of Kathakali have been published in a book, which has also formed material for art research scholars.
"The modern history of Kathakali begins where the life history of Pattikkamthodi ends. “As life expectancy during his time was relatively low, at the age of 68 he was bed-ridden. Though he was sure that he had reached the end of his life, which was devoted to Kathakali for almost six decades, his only desire was to perform one last time with his specially made and renovated head-gear,” his eldest son and last disciple, the late Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair (1928-2007), former Principal of Kerala Kalamandalam" according to KK Gopalakrihnan, (Director of the Centre for Kutiyattam of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi)
- "kerala kalamandalam". www.kalamandalam.org.
- Kathakali Encyclopedia (Vijnanakosam), page 415