Pioneer Pulikkali artiste Chathunny master passes away
Thrissur: Pulikkali pioneer Chathunny, who has taken part in the famous folk art performed during Onam for 61 years without fail, passed away at Kallur here on Friday. Fondly called as ‘Asan’ (master), Chathunny was 79. He had been suffering from age related illnesses.
Chathunny started performing the 200-year-old folk art of ‘Pulikkali’ at the age of 16. Back then, trained folk artists dressed as ‘Puli’ using body paint used to perform acrobatics called ‘Puliyattam’ on top of two wooden poles held horizontally on the shoulders of two men. As time passed, the acrobatic performers disappeared and the present day ‘Puli’s who dance on the ground according to the beat of ‘Chendamelam’ became more popular.
During the recent times, Chathunny master was the only slender ‘Puli’ in ‘Pulikkali’ usually performed by large men with big belly. A traditionalist, Chathunny strictly refrained from consuming non vegetarian food for 41 days prior to taking part in ‘Pulikkali’ every year.
While almost all the new generation ‘Pulikkali’ performers painted faces of lion, leopard or tiger on their belly, Chathunny never followed this trend. Chathunny master challenged painting a face on the belly by reminding everyone that the ‘Puli’ only had one face and that was the mask.
“Have you ever seen a tiger, leopard or lion with two faces? Then why do you want to have two faces on your body while performing Pulikkali?” the master would ask.
Chathunny was found of dressing as ‘Varayan Puli’ (painting that resembles tiger) and gave importance to body movement based on ‘Chendamelam’.
Chathunny has been a part of all ‘Desams’ (regional groups taking part in Pulikkali) during his time. Chathunny was born and brought up in Ayaynthole. But as Ayanthole did not have a Pulikkali team until 2016, he was unable to represent his hometown.
Following his request, people of Ayyanthole created ‘Ayyanthole Pulikkali Desam’ in honour of Chathunny master in 2016. Chathunny was a part of the team ever since and he adorned the ‘Puli’ mask for the last time in 2017.
Chathunny was unable to perform Pulikkali after injuring his leg late in the year 2017. He had planned to adorn the ‘Puli’ mask one last time in 2018 but was unable to do so as the event was cancelled following the devastating deluge that havocked Kerala.
Age related ailments prevented him from taking part in ‘Pulikkali’ in 2019. Representatives from various ‘Pulikkali Desams’ paid last respects to the master at his son’s house in Kallur here in the district.
Chathunny is survived by wife Narayani, son Ramesh and daughter Radha.