Chavara Parukutty, one of the first women to break into the male bastion of Kathakali, passed away here on Thursday following a prolonged illness. The veteran artiste was 75.
A woman who challenged the status quo in art much before the world caught up, Chavara Parukutty had to navigate her way through the barriers of caste and patriarchy in a career spanning six decades. At a time Kerala’s signature dance drama was still attached to the strings of aristocracy, she bravely forayed into a field that held no promises for a women. And Parukutty not only chose an art form which allowed little scope for a woman to have a successful career, but made great strides in that paving the way for many others.
Coming from a modest goldsmith family, classical dance was totally inaccessible to Parukutty as a child. She, along with a friend, used to stand outside the local dance troupe Leelamani Nrithakalalayam and observe the artists dance. Later, the wide-eyed girl was made a member of the group. She was drawn to Kathakali soon, but the only women who took any interest in the complex art were from elite families and for them it was more of a recreational activity. It took Parukutty some time to find her first guru Muthuvilakkad Gopala Panicker and then started a lonely expedition to a male-dominated terrain.
Parukutty made her debut during her pre-university years and in the initial years she was relegated to irrelevant roles as the art circuit tried to exclude her. Though she joined Poruvazhi Sreekrishnavilasm Kaliyogam and started doing major roles, festival brochures carried her name in the smallest font and sometimes even missed it.
But she eventually emerged from the shadows and made her way to the top, often sharing the stage with doyens like Kalamandalam Gopi. She could definitely save herself from being a name lost in obscurity, but stardom and glory always evaded her. While male artists of the same stature roamed the world, foreign stages remained out-of-reach for her and no major honour came her way.
It wasn’t an easy journey as a women artiste and single mother, but even deteriorating health or her lonely last days couldn’t break her spirit. Parukutty, the consummate artiste she was, lived for her art and even on her deathbed she must have dreamt of noting but the next arangu.