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North Kerala has many rich art traditions, of which "Thitambu Nritham" is one. It is mainly performed by Namboothiris of this part of Kerala, and rarely other Braahmanan communities, say for example, Embranthiris. Late Vethiramana Sreedharan Namboodiri could easily be called the "Father of Thitambu Nritham". Luckily this ritualistic art form has not died out with his withdrawal from the stage. Experts in the field like Brahmasree Puthumana Govindan Namboothiri are carrying on the great tradition in the north.
Thitambu Nrityam is pure dance, completely absorbed in, and regulated by, rhythm (Thaalam) which is "Layam". Surprisingly, it has not been included among the temple arts of Kerala, though connoisseurs admit that this is an art, and a ritualistic one. As the dancer comes out carrying the replica of the idol on his head, the "Maaraar" (hereditary drummer in temples) makes the characteristic drumming when Thaanthric rites are performed. The word "Thitambu" suggests the direct manifestation of the deity. Idols being carried on top of elephants during festivals as also replicas beings held on shoulders while dancing to the rhythm of percussion instruments are a common sight in Kerala. But, dancing with the replicas on the heads, is a unique feature in the North.
The origin of Thitambu Nritham cannot be easily traced. Some Braahmanans who had migrated to the North of Kerala at the time of Chirakkal Raja may have introduced this dance from Karnataka where a form of "Nritham" called "Darsana Bali" was in vogue. Replicas are made of bamboo with which a beautiful frame with intricate designs is created. The priestly dancer, clad in the traditional style after performing the usual rituals, comes out of the sanctorum, and standing under the flag, holds aloft the replica weighing about 10 kg on his head and starts the divine dance.
The dance begins with "Kotti Urayikkal" (drumming to make the dancer possessed). The drumming in different Thaalams accompanied by scintillating music coaxes the performer to dance to each rhythm, creating a holy atmosphere. Each circumlocution is regulated by a different Thaalam.
Thitambu Nritham has undergone some changes in accordance with the trend of the times. The changes are in the Thaalams, though the basic one remains unchanged. The innovation adds to the novelty and variety of this art, according to him.
There is no scope for emotional expressions in this art. An exception is famous "Kootippiriyal" (parting of lord Krishna and Balarama) at Trichambaram. The occasion is very touching with thousands watching with tearful joy, Krishna and Balarama playing about wildly until the former runs after the milkman carrying milk, and the latter returns to his dwelling some distance away. There is a legend woven round the Thitambu Nritham of Thrichambaram. There was an ardent devotee of lord Krishna - a Namboothiri. He visited the temple everyday, seeking Krishna's blessings. Time flew. He grew old, so old that he couldnot walk upto the temple half a kilometer away. Inwardly crushed at his physical incapacity, he prayed : "Krishna, my dear, I cannot come to you; forgive me". Legend has it that, that night, lord Krishna ran up to him with his brother Balarama and danced along what is called "Pookkottu Nada" just in front of the Namboothiri's house. The wonder and delight of the Namboothiri can well be imagined. The famous festival at Trichambaram which goes on from 22nd Kumbham to 6th Meenam (middle March) is in celebration of that event. During the festival, the "Melsaanthis" of Trichambaram and Mazhoor (Balarama's temple) hold aloft the replicas of the two deities and dance to the scintillating rhythm of percussion instruments.
Another legend goes like this : A Namboothiri used to sit in meditation under a nux vomica tree [Botanical name : Stricnos nuxvomica; Mal. - "Kaanjiram"]. He had sores all over his body. The fruit that occasionally fell on his body gave him excruciating pain. In agony he cried out a curse : "Let this tree bear no fruit any longer". Even today the tree bears no fruit, though it has leaves. It is interesting that during the festival, the dancing Namboothiri priests place the idols of various gods in a small "Mandapam" under the tree. People pay obeisance to the deities here.
BRAHMASREE PUTHUMANA GOVINDAN NAMBOOTHIRI:THE LIVING LEGEND WITH 25 yrs OF EXCELLENCE IN THITAMPU NRITHAM
Brahmasree Puthumana Govindan Namboothiri (44),resident of Puthumana Illam,Chemmattam Vayal,kanhangad is a famous and distinguished thitampu nritham artist (expert) at temples. He is an artist of promise has performed at almost all the temples (around 200) in north Kerala for the past 25yrs. His guru is Brahmasree MADAMANA SANKARAN EMBRANTHIRI(68), resident of Muthalappara, Neeleswaram, Kasaragod district has 45 years of experience and winner of VETHIRAMANA AWARD for senior thitampu nritham artists. He started with ARANGETTAM at Sree ATHIYAMPOOR SUBRAHMANYA SWAMY TEMPLE, Kanhangad during the SHASHTHI UTHSAVAM-1979. He was inspired by Late Brahmasree THEKKILLAM KESHAVAN EMBRANTHIRI (First VETHIRAMANA AWARD WINNER). He has acquired great skill in this art and his fame extends from THALASSERY in the SOUTH to MANGALORE in the north.
He follows entirely THEKKAN SAILI and has excelled in this area. He has received many honors and numerous awards for his unique and excellent performance during the past years from well known temples like Sree (CHIRAKKA KAVU, THALASSERY, KUTTAMATH BHAGAVATHI TEMPLE, CHERUVATHUR, PALLIKKUNNU MAHAVISHNUTEMPLE, KANATHUR, EDAKKAD VISHNU TEMPLE, KANNUR) etc.. Initially he has performed in the telecast on DOORDARSHAN on "KSHETHRAKALAKAL" (in section thitampunritham) while he was performing at Sree KOLLYA MOOKAMBIKA TEMPLE, ULLAL. After that he performed in many times for various local channels at Kasaragod like Indiavision, city channels and his NRITHAM appears during the UTSAVA season. His performance at VEERABHADRA TEMPLE, CHERUVATHUR (The second famous ARATTUTHSAVAM of north Kerala VAYALIL ARATTU) was telecasted in ASIANET. His performance at Sree VISHNUMANGALAM temple will be telecasted in the SURYA channel under the programme "KELI". He has performed for the KAIRALI channel and AMRUTHA channel. In total he has appeared in around 30 T V programmes. It is a measure of his fame that people crowd to the temples where he is a performer.
His style of performing thitampu nritham is unique and makes attractive to the viewers even without the knowledge of this divine art. It is always found that there will be a large crowd to watch this performance from areas far away from temples. He keeps all the conventional styles as such with varities which comes under the new trend. He always says "I perform thitampu nritham with bhakthi which is the secret of my success" and he does not believe in the degrading tendencies by the new artists to perform mere dance instead of NRITHAM due to lack of effort. He remains performing different SHAILIS for continous 30 minutes each for 4 THALAVATTAMS(For continous 2 hrs) and says the "ADANTHA" is his favourite. He is becoming popular nowadays as he always sticks only to this art and never tries to copy other dances and art forms.
He respects all THITAMPU artists whether they follow THEKKAN or VATAKKAN saili and continues with its magestic performance from vrishchikam to medam. It is a reflection on his devotion to this divine art that he is giving training to many aspiring youngsters. Further, he is doing research on the origin, development and history of this art in a wide prespective and intends to bring out a different look combining nritya and bhakti. The purpose is to rejuvenate Thitambu Nritham, which is facing eclipse.
Many experts says that he is a supreme artist with extraordinary performance skills ever since. He comes to perform THITAMPU NRITHAM under request which has fascinated thousands of viewers (art lovers) and devotees irrespective of weight of the Thitampu. It is a matter of special interest that there are many temples where he continues to perform since he was assigned since 1979!! He lives as pure NAMBOOTHIRI with pooja and maintains old tradition of the community. The soft spoken expert of thitampu nritham is known by majority of marars in north Kerala and respected by them. He remembers how he was introduced by KADANNAPPALLI SANKARAN KUTTY MARAR to PALLIKKUNNU KANATHOOR temple for performance with Late Brahmasree thekkillam Kesavan Embranthiri. A majority of his fans believes that the honors received by him so far is not sufficient to greet him for his excellence and the dedication he shows in this field.
Courtesy: Members of committees of various temples at Kannur, Kanhangad & Mangalore, Unnikrisha warrier (Interview with the artist)