Seldom in the realm of Kathakali would one come across an artist as renowned and dextrous as Madavoor Vasudevan Nair.
The 89-year-old maestro had collapsed while performing a recital at Agasthyacode Mahadeva temple at Anchal in Kollam district on Tuesday. Despite being rushed to a nearby hospital, Nair succumbed and left behind an abyss in the classical dance-drama dominion that can never be matched.
Born on April 7, 1929, in the village of Madavoor in Thiruvananthapuram, Vasudevan Nair was popularly known by his hometown’s namesake amidst fellow artists and artform enthusiasts.
He had been one of the last practitioners of the Kaplingadan style of Kathakali in a career that spanned over eight long decades.
Madavoor’s foray into the world of arts began at an early age. Under the guidance of celebrated teacher Madavoor Parameswaran Pillai, he took his first steps into the arena at the age of 10. And just six months into his training, Madavoor performed his first recital where he had donned the roles of Bhanumathi and Utharan in the play Utharaswayamvaram!
From here began a journey that went on to cement the man as one of the prominent figures in the performing arts sphere of Kerala.
In that journey, he also trained with other eminent masters like Kurinji Kunjan Panicker and Chengannur Raman Pillai, under whom he trained for almost over a decade and mastered the Kaplingadan style.
In 1947, Madavoor was instated as a member of the ‘Kottaram Kaliyogam’, the royal performing arts entourage, by none other than the Maharaja of Travancore, where he continued to perform until 1964. He later joined as a faculty member of the Kerala Kalamandalam, one of the premier performing arts school in the state.
Particularly famous for his proficient enactment of characters like ‘Kathi,’ ‘Pacha,’ ‘Vellathadi’ & ‘Minukku’, Madavoor was conferred with various awards and accolades throughout his illustrious career for his ability to entrance audiences with engrossing performances.
Some of the awards include the Thulaseevanam Award, Alappuzha Kathakali Club Award, Keraleeya Kalakshetra Award, Guru Chengannur Memorial Award, Kerala Kalamandalam Award, Thapasya Abhinandana Pathram and Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award.
Besides performing across the country, Madavoor also performed in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, Indonesia, Canada, Australia, Germany, Great Britain and the United States of America.
Hoping to keep the legacy of this ancient art form alive, Madavoor decided to don the garb of a teacher and founded the Kalabharathi Kathakali School at Pakalkkkuri, which continues to nurture and mould new talents.
In 2011, Madavoor was bestowed with the honour of the Padma Bhushan by the then President Pratibha Patil, in recognition of his unparalleled contribution in the field of arts.
An active performer even in his late eighties, perhaps Madavoor would have considered it a high honour to have departed amidst a Kathakali performance.
For the performing arts fraternity and Kathakali lovers, his absence will be missed deeply.
You can watch one of Madavoor’s older performances here: