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Portrait of Unnayi Warrier
Unnayi Variyar (also Variar/Warrier/Warriar) was a poet, writer, scholar, dramatist who lived in Kerala, India during the later part of the 17th century. He gave immense contributions to the art of Kathakali, the classical dance-drama form of Kerala. He is widely renowned for his chef-d'oeuvre Nalacharitham aattakatha.
There are only sketchy details available regarding Unnayi Variyar's real name, exact date and place of birth, his family background and literary achievements. There is consensus among scholars that his family name was 'Akathoottu Warriam' and that he was a garland maker (traditional vocation of Warriers (Variar)) by profession at Irinjalakkuda Koodalmanikyam Temple. One tangible record available that throws light on his life and times is that his work Nalacharitham aattakatha - 2nd day was enacted during the festival season of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram(Trivandrum) in 1752 AD. This for certain proves that Nalacharitham was authored by Variyar during the first half of 18th century or earlier. There is speculation that Ramapurathu Warrier was a disciple of Unnayi Variyar and as noted by Prof. Aimanam Krishna Kaimal in his celebrated work "Attakkatha Sahityam" it is reasonable to assume Unnayi Variyar lived between 1674 and 1754 C.E. Also, Prof. Kaimal infers that Unnayi's real name was 'Raman'. He arrives at this conclusion by presenting evidence that last sloka of another of Unnayi's works - 'Girijakalyanam' aatakatha mentions the author's name to be 'Raman'.
The most famous work of Unnayi Variyar is Nalacharitham Aattakkatha. The work is divided into four parts/days with each part designed in such a way as to be presented as an independent performance. Nalacharitham elevated the literary standards of Kathakali and is widely recognised to be path breaking and pioneering in its approach to make Kathakali a complete art form. Root story of Nalacharitham Kathakali song is based on the Mahabharata (chapters 52 to 79 of Aaranyaparvam). It is one of the stories told by sage Brihadaswan to Pandava prince Yudhishthira during the despondent times that Pandavas go through during their exile. Story revolves around the most righteous Nishada king Nala,his wife Damayanti and the troubles they undergo in spite of being pious and virtuous and how in the end they are absolved and restored to their previous glory and joy.By many accounts Nalacharitham is considered to be the complete aatakatha via its perfect storyline, masterly rendering and consistent aesthetics.
Fundamental influence that Unnayi Variyar has had on Kathakali is on the emergence of the importance of Rasa (aesthetics) as against a more dominant Bhava Bhava abhinaya. Also Variyar through his Nalacharitham is widely acknowledged to have raised the dramatic value of Kathakali as an art form.
- The Encyclopaedia Of Indian Literature (Volume One (A To Devo), Volume 1; Page:267. Author:Amaresh Datta; Publisher:Sahitya Akademi, 2006 . ISBN 9788126018031
- Aimanam Krishna Kaimal. Attakkatha Sahithyam (study). Chapter 4 - Nalacharitham. State Institute of Languages, Kerala, 1998.