(Last Updated on : 05-01-2009)
Kurichi Kunjan Panicker was a renowned Kathakali
actor. He was born in Kurichi Neelamperoor village near Changanassery, Kottayam district
in 1887. He was the nephew of the eminent guru-brothers Kurichi Kochappi and Rama Panicker. He inherited Kathakali. After their death, he left for Malabar at the age of 14. His uncles had trained him in the Kaplingatu (southern) school, following which he studied under Appunni Poduval in Lakkidi in Palakkad district and, later, Koottil Kunhan Menon in Angadippuram in Malappuram district. By knowing the traditions of Travancore, Kochi, and Malabar, he developed an individual style. For his superb performances even in the smallest roles, he was appointed a senior Kathakali artist, as a 22-year-old, with the Travancore royal family's troupe in Thiruvananthapuram.
Sometimes Kurichi Kunjan Panicker played different parts on the same night with equal success. On stage, as in real life, he was very humorous, improvising freestyle according to the quality of his audience. Unusually for Kathakali, spectators spontaneously applauded his acting. As Krishna in Duryodhana-vadham i.e. 'Slaying of Duryodhana', he entered in a car instead of a chariot. When asked why, he replied, 'People like you understand the importance of both the story and Kathakali, but most people who sit in front of me are ignorant of this art, its story and the technical aspects. As an actor I want them to enjoy it, so I did it that way.'
Appearing as the mahout in Kamsavadham or 'Slaying of Kamsa' alongside Mankulam Vishnu Namboodiri as Krishna, he asked the singers to stop, and began acting drunk. His performance was so funny that those on stage i.e. Krishna, Balarama, Akrura, and others forgot their roles and started laughing. As Arjuna in Kalakeyavadham or 'Slaying of Kalakeya' and Rukmangada he excelled because of meaningful hand gestures appropriate to the verses, and rhythmic movements. He was very famous as Hanuman, and the Hamsa or swan in Nalacharitam i.e. 'Nala's Life'. His disciples include Mankulam Vishnu Namboodiri, Oyoor Kochugovinda Pillai, and Nattakam Velu Pillai.