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Tribute to Guru Chemancheri

  • M.Rajesh,News Director CNM

Kathakali maestro and centenarian Guru Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair is no more.

He breathed his last at his home  in the wee hours of Monday  at the age of 105.

When the news of his demise heard from journalists group ,some memories came into my mind.

There were many occasions I could see his performance and attend public functions in Kozhikode as part of my news reporting activity.However,the interview I had from his home  is most memorable.

He had a childlike enthusiasm throughout the time we spent together.

He was such a down to earth person with extra ordinary patience and love.

At that time ,  Kalakshethra Chennai awarded him Keerthymudra and citations.

He spoke to the CNM the same day he returned from Chennai at his home in Chemancheri.When he showed us the most recent award guru was as excited as a beginner of this art. This is the style of guru; so simple and down to earth.

Last night’s train journey  didn’t affect him.He  never turned impatient through out the interview.Instead,he showed a positive energy and excitement.

He narrated major breakthroughs in his life and art to us.All these minutes,he kept the usual smile that was charming and energetic.


Guru Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair was very young at Kathakali even he crossed the age of 100.He was a living legend for Keralites as well as Kathakali fans worldwide.

Kunhiraman Nair born at Cheliya in Koyilandy.When he was only two and half his mother Ammukkutty Amma died.His father Chengottukav Madayankandi Chathukkutty Nair passed away when Kunhiraman Nair was only thirteen. His later life was under his uncles’ protection.

He used to act in dramas during his early days of primary education. Senior theatre personalities in those days noticed young Kunhiraman Nair’s talent in acting and asked him whether he was interested in Kathakali. Even though his uncles were against it, Kunhiraman Nair revealed his longing to learn Kathakali.Gradually Kunhiraman Nair learned Kathakali under C.C.Appukkuttan Nambiar of Koothali.

Kerala’s Kathakali maestro, Guru’s  Kathakali show at Kuniyil Pradevatha temple was something distinctive with its significance with time and age. He performed his role as Krishna at the age of 100 at the temple, Kizhpayur. The venue was more special to him because he stepped into Kathakali 87 years back at this same temple.

He acted the role of Lord Krishna in Duryodanavadham.

He forgot his age and related tiredness while dressing for the historical show. He has trained as many as students into this art form by establishing his own Kathakali Vidyalayam at Cheliya in Koyilandi. His immense contribution to this traditional art is well-known among the Keralites and the art lovers all over the world.

During the time of the interview,I expressed my concern that why didn’t guru get Padmashree. He never complained.But.he had the same old smile.

He got many awards.

All these awards were searching for him. He never longed for any single one because to him Kathakali was his karma…a duty assigned to him by the almighty. While speaking to the CNM at his residence at Cheliya, a hamlet near Koyilandi, guru spoke the styles and grace of Kathakali.He also commemorated his forefathers in this field each moment and also shows his guru’s photos framed and kept at a small room where a large number of trophies and awards are showcased. “I got small roles like Krishna in the beginning. Hence, Krishna’s role became very popular in my plays.”

I remember his words.

I strongly questioned the authorities for not considering guru for the prestigious prize he deserves in true sense.

The article got wide acceptance.There were many online campaigns in support of the statement made in the article.In the next award declaration.Guru’s name found place in Padma award.

All the Keralites honored. After he was selected for the Padma award,next time, I called on Guru,


He said,“It is the result of the prayers of my villagers. It is an award to Kathakali.

Kathakali was a devotion to him, more than just an art form. He dedicated his life to this classic art form since the age of fourteen. He was a  legend in the traditional art form of Kerala. He received many awards throughout his life.


“There are kuttitharam, edatharam, randamtharam,agrasanam in Kathakali.Krishna’s role belonged to kuttitharam.I got only kuttitharam and thus I got Krishna’s role”, smiling guru shared the history behind his role as Krishna.

His nephew Padmanabhan,who is associated with guru’s Kathakali Vidyalayam Cheliya and an ardent devotee of this art, comments:

“Rarely, small roles become outstanding and one becomes so gracious in Kathakali.Ammaman‘s (Uncle’s) genius in this art is the reason.”

Kunhiraman Nair lost his parents when he was a small boy. He showed his interest in Kathakali, even at his school days. His play has some special charm while considering southern style of Kathakali.Guru gives the blend of dance rather than act to make it a wonderful experience. The southern style always gives importance to acting than dance.


He has performed woman role also in Kathakali. His  performance after completing 100 years, it was a revisiting of his first stage decades back.


Natyam, mudra and all the ingredients of Kathakali are here merged with devotion. That is the beauty of guru’s performance that no other of his genre can claim.

Guru’s Kathakali is also very popular among admirers in almost all southern states. Many cultural organizations invited guru to perform in these places.

Guru immortalized his grandeur in Kathakali. He  left the stage of life that is still inspirational to all.

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