Indian Heritage Centre's CultureFest 2020 aims to bring audiences a wide and eclectic line-up of programmes that celebrate the wonder, joy and distinctness of Indian culture. One such unique performance this year is an art form called Koothu.
While Koothu has been performed for many generations, with many troupes coming to Singapore and performing it even in the 50s, CultureFest 2020 showcases a form of the ancient art, called 'Anandha Koothu'.
'Anandha Koothu' has not been ever been performed in Singapore before this, says Anandha Kannan, Creative Director of Anandha Koothu Trust and Artistic Director of AKT Creations.
“For the Indian Heritage Centre’s CultureFest 2020, the AKT team is performing a scene from Ramayana depicting Surpanagai”, says Kannan, who has put together the ideas and concepts for the digital presentation.
“It was a wonderful journey directing and conveying a performance which goes on for hours, by wrapping it up into a 10-12 minute online performance," he tells Connected to India.
Surpanagai or Surpanakha is Ravana’s sister and she is an apt character for such a performance as, “there are different shades to her character and she is very much a lovable character”, says Kannan.
Kannan worked on a Koothu performance where Surpanagai meets the fortune teller, Kuravanji.
“And this has been performed by three youngsters, rather, by three wonderful and powerful ladies - Eswari, Ava and Krishnna Kumarri, who have been well-trained by masters from India,” elaborates Kannan.
“Our Koothu gurus are Duraisamy and Tamilarisi, who have been of great help”, says Anandha Kannan, paying respect to his gurus.
When asked if Koothu is a dying art form his response is, "I don’t think it is a dying art form and I feel that it will continue to survive, the way it has survived so far... how and why, I don’t have the expertise to tell you.”
Recently, TM Krishna, a renowned classical artist, was speaking about Koothu and how he thought it was just loud songs, shares Kannan. “Before he realised how much of depth and knowledge are packed into it and that we need to learn from these Koothu forms. He has been working with Koothu artists bringing out a very explorative element to the form,” he says.
Training in Koothu in Singapore
Artists in Singapore may not be able to retrieve or understand everything which was done by the Koothu artists of yore, who had a methodic performance style which they followed after fasting for 45 days, says Kannan.
However, he takes elements from them and uses it to tell his stories.
“It is a joyful journey for me. I am very blessed to have young, keen and dedicated people working along with me, like Ava, Eswari, Krishnna, and Arinn Jay Kannan”, says Kannan.
They explore the art form and the music and sound give them a pleasure as they perform, he says.
Challenges in preserving the art form
As a third-generation Singaporean, practising the art form, one of the biggest challenges is "the geographical challenge, which is to be far away from experts in India who are into the folk art form for generations together”, says Kannan.
Taking time off to stay in India, get trained by them (some of whom are doing their thesis on folk art history) is also quite challenging financially, he adds.
Another challenge is time. “While all of us would love to be into arts full time, it is not feasible for many. Since most of the team members are not full-time artists, we need to plan a schedule many months ahead, in order to learn, rehearse and deliver accordingly”, says Kannan.
“Luckily with technology, it’s getting easier and we are now trying to get our lessons done from India through online sessions from masters”.
Kannan says that there is a great joy and prestige in being able to perform in the CultureFest, where so many Singaporean artists are coming together and doing their part.
“The performance is completely done by our own local artists, so it feels like being a part of a family gathering”, says Kannan.
He believes that what keeps the practitioners of these traditional art forms motivated is "keeping alive and sharing what our grandfathers and great grandfathers had seen and enjoyed and seeing it being received with joy".
About AKT Creations
Formed in 2011, AKT Creations has over the last 16 years been committed to researching and teaching arts and has taken it to about 70,000 children.
“Exposing children to our traditions, workshops and festivals has given a lot of joy to the AKT family and we aim to spread the same through our vehicle of marabu art forms”, says Kannan.
All the people who have joined AKT over the years have formed an integral part of the community that creates art and are like a family, he adds.
The team aims to learn and understand folk art history through art forms such as Villu Pattu, Poi Kal Kuthirai, Kummi, Oyilattam, Koothu, Kaliyal, Karagam, Thudumbu, Parai, Uruttu, etc.
“We are indebted to the great masters in India who have been teaching these art forms to us, and inspired by them, we have great joy in performing these art forms in Singapore,” Kannan tells Connected to India.
An essential aspect of traditional art history is for the person to lose himself by becoming a fan of the art and also to mimic the work and make a science out of the art forms. With these in mind, AKT is trying to build their own stories through these centuries-old art forms.
Catch Anandha Koothu and many more exciting events and programmes lined up for the 6th edition of the IHC CultureFest via Facebook from September 5-20.