Kerala has a rich history of art forms that have entranced the world. Kathakali and Kalari are perhaps the most well-known of these art forms whose fame has crossed the seven seas. Many others like Chavittu Nadakam, Mudiyettu and Tholpavakoothu find resonance amongst the connoisseurs of these art forms, but they are increasingly dwindling. It is not only the art lovers who are slowly waning but also the artistes — caught as they are between a passion towards their art and the reality of art not filling their bellies. Consequently some of the art forms have moved away from strict boundaries and followed the occidental path. Seeing the need to preserve and document the fast-dying art forms of Kerala, actor Sajitha Madathil has launched an online archive www.attakkalam.in that will serve as a storehouse of information on traditional art forms and their practitioners.
This is an initiative that has kept Sajitha busy since the past two years. “I had been working in Delhi as the deputy secretary in two tenures in the archives section. What I learnt from my stint was that Kerala has a lot of art forms in the folk, ritual, tribal and puppetry areas. Our folk tradition is very strong but that is not strongly projected to the outside world nor is there any proper documentation of these traditional art forms. I learnt a systematic form of archiving from Delhi and what pained me was that such an archiving process was not there in Kerala.” She found that archiving by individuals and establishments was there but those archives were not accessible to the general public.
Sajitha also realised that the online medium was the only way to lure youngsters to take a glimpse into the varied art and culture of Kerala and to give them an initiation into the traditions. This was her first step. She also recalled the time when she was working in Delhi and someone asked her about the traditional dance of Pulikali. “What I would do was to show them videos and photos of the performers but when I was asked further questions I was left flummoxed. This is what led me to think of documenting the arts.” Consequently, some rare art forms like bamboo music, Arabanamuttu, Kalamezhuttu, Thiriuzhichial, Irula dance, etc are documented in www.attakkalam.in.
The online archive has classiffied the art forms into the folk, rituals, tribal, martial and puppetry, which will take you to videos, a description of the art form, photos as well as a link to the masters, which will give out artiste names as well as news relating to them, gathered from various sources. She has currently documented 10 such art forms, struggling through the challenges of fund crunches and without having an example to follow. There were a million things for Sajitha to follow up and do, but with a team working alongside her, she was able to make a go. Before she ends, Sajitha says, “I want to document 25 such art forms and then launch a portal.