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Kunchan Nambiar Biography | Poet

Photo of Kunchan Nambiar

Kunchan Nambiar, (c1706-c1770), was an Indian poet, performer and inventor of a performing art form of dance, music and verse known as Ottan Thullal. He is often described as the Master of satirical Malayalam poetry, as he used the Malayalam language in its pure form and incorporated elements of local folk arts in his own free expression. He also was a politically outspoken person often criticizing the social evils that he witnessed taking place all around him.

He even went so far as to speak poorly of those people looking for gossip and drama at the events where he was performing and he would often say in his act that this was not the reason for his celebrations, but rather the message of the poem, often a politically charged issue, whether socially or economically.

Ottan Thullal

This form of entertainment was in opposition of the status quo politically, socially and economically and often would poke fun of these issues. This was a revolutionary transformation in the arts of his time. This rhythmic and exciting dance, also known as thullal, was written in simplistic language with the idea of having an audience involved, possibly rowdy and lighthearted. It is said that he has written 40 of these scores.

The story of this form states that he had fallen asleep during a performance of traditional music and played some of the piece incorrectly. He was made fun of and he took the opportunity to come up with something new and fresh for the people to view.

This "common people" art form was less serious in nature to some of the other poetry that was popularized at the same time. He is often notes as having a good sense of humor in his works. He has been quoted, "You can not entertain without laughter." He often entertained the working man and the soldier. There was drumming and music intertwined with the verse that he offered. It became a very popular form of entertainment.

In Remembrance

There are two memorials in place for Kunchan Nambiar, the beloved bard. One (birth) is in the Palakkad district and the other (death) in the Alappuzha district. The Smarakam, the memorial of his birth also has stages for the dances, a library and a museum. The museum houses the vibrant and lush costumes along with articles used in the dances. He spent the majority of his life in Ambalappuzha and this is where he became well known and as famous as you can get at that time. He made an unforgettable splash with his songs and dances and every year, May 5th is observes as Kunchan Day. On this day, there is artistic performances that take place at the Killikkurissimangalam memorial.

A sample piece of writing that was set to music and danced to is as follows:

The kingdom of the Gandharaka ruler

Has turned into a mere desert.

The land of the Simhala King

Is now filled with lions and leopards.

The lord of the Chera people

Feeds himself on cheap vegetables.

The Chola King has nothing to eat

Except the maize of low quality

The kings of the Kuru house

Have nothing but jackfruit seeds.

The lord of the land of Kashmir

Is busy eating cucumbers.

The ruler of the Champeya land

Eats only tubers and broken rice.

The Konkan prince is about to die

Thinking of his wives' breasts.

The Indian poets often would pray or allude to God in their performances. Although it may not translate perfectly, it is obvious why his work was controversial. His memory and legacy live on as his work continues to be performed. Nambiar had a strong sense of humor and used poetry as his medium to create a questioning public.

There are many aspects of Indian culture that have been under fire over the centuries of its lush and full history and it still continues today. Artists, writers and performers often reflect the society to which they belong, and many of them choose to critique the problems that abound around making them an object of concern and suspicion for those who want to continue to have order and control. If you look at the artists, writers and performers of any day and any time, you will see a progressive movement in their art. They are often the free thinkers, activists and politically questioning people.

Although there is some level of fear or mystique surrounding these people, there is also a strong love for those same artists who took the risk through their emotional expression of their medium in order to call attention to these troubles, social and political constructs and cultural issues. People today still revere their artists and musicians and they are generally socially accepted as such. 

Kunchan Nambiar: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes