Mankulam Vishnu Namboodiri was an actor, Kathakali teacher and also scholar of ancient scriptures. He was born in Keerikadu, near Kayamkulam, Kollam district in 1908. Both his parents were learned, and his father acted in Kathakali dance dramas as well. After the formal Sanskrit education customary among Brahmans, he became a student of the famous Kathakali exponent, Keerikadu Sankara Pillai. He debuted as Krishna, the part he became famous for, in Rukminisvayamvaram or 'Rukmini's Choice of Groom'. He also took lessons from gurus like Chennithala Kochu Pillai Panicker, Thottam Sankaran Namboodiri, and Kurichi Kunjan Panicker. In 1933, he was appointed a first-grade artiste of the Travancore palace troupe. In 1960 he established Samastha Kerala Kathakali Vidyalayam. This is an institute that promotes Kathakali, at Keerikadu near his home. It moved to Thiruvananthapuram as the Margi Kathakali Centre. He danced in feature films too.
At first Namboodiri acted female roles like Damayanti, Rambha, and Urvashi, then became famous as male characters like Arjuna, and Bhima. Some of his famous roles can be mentioned as in Kalyana saugandhika or 'Auspicious Fragrant Flower', Nala, Rukmangada, Kacha, Kichaka, Jarasandha, Duryodhana, Ravana, Hanuman, and the Kattala or 'forest-dweller'. He excelled in angika or physical and sattvika or psychological abhinaya oilokadharmi aspects. He used to study the text thoroughly before deciding the mudras that befitted the verses. He stated that whenever he enacted Krishna, he felt the experience of communion with God, and his identity vanished and merged with Krishna's supreme self. He enacted Krishna over 2000 times, from the stories of Kamsavadham or 'Slaying of Kamsa' to Gitopadesam or 'The Gita Advice'. The night he died, he enacted Krishna in four different episodes. Mankulam Vishnu Namboodiri die din the year of 1981.
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