V. Kaladharan

A bilingual writer, art critic, and cultural commentator, V. Kaladharan is Publicity and Research Officer at Kerala Kalamandalam, and edited the anthology, 'Proud Imprints of Natya Veda'

Class conducted by Madavoor Vasudevan Nair (1929–2018), an exemplary teacher, and one of the most distinguished exponents of the southern school of Kathakali, popularly known as the Kaplingadan. The school, which dominated the whole of Travancore, was spearheaded by illustrious Acharyas, such as Chengannoor Raman Pillai, Madavoor Vasudevan Nair’s teacher.


An instinct for Kathakali had led Vasudevan Nair to take lessons under Madavoor Parameswaran Pillai before becoming the dear disciple of Guru Chengannoor Raman Pillai. Raman Pillai groomed him for years which helped Madavoor grasp the nuances of portraying the minor, medium and major characters in Kathakali. Along with his contemporaries, Haripad Ramakrishna Pillai, Moncompu Sivasankara Pillai and Chennithala Chellappan, Madavoor soon grew to become a noted artiste in the field, and was his Guru’s replica in many respects.


Eschewing flamboyance, Madavoor took a while to make his presence felt among Kathakali spectators. Step by step, he made them realize that he was the true inheritor of a great legacy. By enacting the roles of Ravana, Keechaka, Baana, Duryodhana, Jarasandha, Hanuman and the like, he created in the minds of the audience an impact similar to that of Guru Chengannoor. In the execution of the hand-gestures, facial expressions, body-movements and character-treatment, his style adhered to that of Thekkan chitta (southern Kalari) which calls for direct rapport with the Prekshaka without an iota of complexity. Thus both his padardhabhinaya and manodharmam (improvisation) easily appealed to the masses. His performance gave equal importance to dance and theatre. Madavoor did not hesitate to entertain the audience whenever the character and the contexts allowed him space for fun. Yet he did not play to the gallery at the cost of the characters he presented on stage. Apart from Prathinayakas (antiheroes), Madavoor’s noted roles include brahmins in various plays and Hamsa (golden swan) in Nalacharitam – Day I.


Madavoor served for short stints at the Kerala Kalamandalam and at Pakalkuri, and imparted his essence to succeeding generations. His mission was to nurture a host of talented youngsters so that the Kaplingadan School of Kathakali would stand the test of time.


The recipient of honours that included the Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Kerala State Award for Kathakali, Madavoor valued much more the words of his admirers than the awards that came his way.


He breathed his last on February 6, 2018, while performing on stage as Ravana, one of his favourite characters.