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Namboothiri Magicians

There have been several Namboothiris who had mastered the art of magic - "Jaalavidya" - but only very few such as Vaazhakunnam, came to the limelight. In earlier days, magic was only for satisfying the curiosity and for personal and family entertainment, and not with professional / commercial intentions, nor for large audience. Magic was then based on hiding and moving objects in the hands or somewhere else on the body ("Kayyatakkam" or "Kayyothukkam"), which dexterity constituted 90% of magic. Now-a-days, however, this aspect gets only nominal attention, and magic has become a play with technological contraptions, but which also keeps the audience spellbound. This article throws some light on some of the known Namboothiri magicians, though many unknown ones go unrecorded.

1. Prof: Vaazhakunnam

If one were to ask who was the most famous magician in the last century, the unequivocal answer will point to the "grandfather among magicians" of Kerala, Prof: Vaazhakunnam Neelakandhan Namboodiri. For more than half a century, he had kept the onlookers spellbound in spite of his extreme simplicity, and devoid of any elaborate stage and costume.

He was born on Makeeram star on 26 Makaram, 1078 (08-02-1903) in Vaazhakunnath Mana in Thiruvegappura, to Raman Atithiripad and Narippatta (Karalmanna) Mahal, Arya Pathanaadi as the fourth son. Raman Atithiripad, popularly known as Vaazhakunnam Ateeri was famous for his wits (Click here for Namboothiri Wits). After "Othu" (committing Vedam to memory), he learned Sanskrit at Guruvayur from his brother, Vasudevan Nambudiri (scholar and expert on discourse), and English from Pattambi Narayana Iyer.

Though he had a yearning earlier to learn magic after having watched some tricks shown in his Illam by one Mundaya Eachara Varier, his stay at Guruvayur kindled in him tremendous interest about elephants and studied "Maathangaleela" under an expert, Kochunni Thampuran of the Kodungallur royalty. While there, he happened to watch "Cheppadividya" [tricks using Cheppu (cups) and Panthu (balls)] peformed by Pallatheri Nambiathan Namboodiri (vide 2, below) an expert and scholar by any standard, and his interest in magic was re-kindled. With the permission of his master, he switched to learning Jaalavidya under this Pallatheri.

Vaazhakunnam later became famous for Kayyothukkam, although occasionally he performed also "Cheppum Panthum" (cups and balls) to small family gatherings. Gradually he mastered other modern magic tricks also. He learned "bullet" tricks from the renowned magician Bekkar of Alappuzha and taught him Cheppum Panthum in return - as Guru Dakshina. He became adept in card tricks from Alli Kittan (Alli Krishna Iyer). He used to put all his little gadgets in a bag when he visited Illams and Kovilakams, and if pressed upon, would show a few items, particularly those based on Kayyothukkam, always captivating the on-lookers. Once in a while, depending on the audience, he would show the "bullet", "tying upon the cross", "guillotine" and other technology-oriented tricks. Though he did not consider hypnotism and mesmerism as part of pure magic, there were occasions when he had to do such tricks under pressure. He was famous for his disappearing act (Mooti Vidya). There were many instances where, after performing a trick, he would even show how it is done, saying that with practice, anyone could do it; such was his humility.

After his inaugural show at Guruvayur his first invited public performance was in the Ganapathy temple at Ongallur, near Pattambi (Palakkad district). His silver jubilee act was in Ganapath High School, Kozhikode, and golden jubilee in Samoothiri High School, also in Kozhikode, and sponsored by St. Joseph's College, Devagiri, Kozhikode. In the temple at Taliparamba, he received a gold arm-band (Veera Srumkhala) and was awarded the title "Jaalavidya Vidagdhan" (magic expert), and had later received a number of awards, medallions and certificates from several places, and eulogies from many great poets of the time.

It was after 1940 that he started real stage performances with his troupe. Apart from magic, the shows included short dance programmes, comedy skits, etc. With him was Paryanampatta (Kunchunny Nambudiripad) (vide 3, below) who was already a well-known actor and Vaazhakunnam's disciple in magic. After 1948, he modified his shows including costumes. He would start with a two-line prayer (his own creation) and a Gandhi Sthuthi, being a true Gandhian. He would start from very simple tricks and proceed to more complicated ones. He was unmatched in "producing" any number and almost any size of different articles apparently from nothing.

Though he had staged in most of the cities in India, and in the Gulf countries once, he never intended to make a living or a commercial venture out of magic. Often he was in financial difficulties and could not even keep his gold medallions. On the other hand, he was ever-so-willing to have free fund-raising performances for the governments and the community.

At some point, he and P C Sircar (Jr) met, and ever since they had tremendous mutual respect. In his old age, Sircar visited him at home and gave him a cycle rickshaw and in return received a sword. Most later magicians considered it fortunate to be Vaazhakunnam's student. Apart from Paryanampatta, those trained by him include the late Manjeri Ali Khan, Prof: Muthukad, R K Malayath, Joy Oliver, K P Krishnan Bhattathiripad, Kuttiyadi Nanu, K S Manoharan, K J Nair, Vadakkeppad Parameswaran, Raghavan, his own sons and others.

He had married K C Anujathi Thampuratty of Kottakkal Kovilakam (d: 1980) and have two sons and a daughter. The elder son, late K C Aravindakshan Raja (d: 1998) was a magician, while his brother, K C Thulasidas Raja, though a high school teacher, is known as Junior Vaazhakunnam and has been staging magic performances. Vaazhakunnam's daughter K C Sumathy is married to the writer-poet P M Narayanan (Panjavur Mana).

The only time he could not keep an appointment on stage was in 1983 at Kasargod, but that was because on the 9th of February that year he disappeared for ever from the magic (and real) world! His ambition that the government should recognise magic as an "art", and to establish an institution for magic studies remain unfulfilled to this day.

2. Pallatheri Nambiathan Namboodiri

Born in ME 1054 (1878 - 79) in Pallatheri Mana, Nambiathan Namboodiri became very proficient in a variety of fields - Sanskrit poetry (Kaavyam), Tharkam (logic), Thachu Saasthram (architecture), Vedam, drawing and painting, Jaalavidya (magic), etc. Though he was a scholar and expert in these and other areas, he did not receive the recognition he deserved. In fact, he shunned fame.

He was unusually adept in "Cheppadi Vidya" or "Cheppum Panthum Kali" (cup and balls), which aspect of magic is considered truly indigenous to Kerala. Even world famous magicians are amazed by this technique, especially since they require only very simple equipment, create amazing wonder and are pure fun. It basically requires extreme dexterity with hands (Kayyothukkam) and quickness.

He taught Cheppum Panthum to Prof: Vaazhakunnam, which also included the aparently invisible techniques called "Raajamura". Pallatheri later became known to the world as the Guru (teacher) of Vaazhakunnam. Pallatheri died in ME 1115 (1939 - 40).

In magic, Pallatheriís teacher ("Guru") was Arattupuzha Rama Varier. Nambiathan Namboodiri was a good artist too. The earth ("Bhoogolam"), as described in the Sreemad Bhaagavatham, that he depicted in his drawing on the wall of the "Pathaayappura" (annexe) of the Puthanchira Sudarsanamoorthy temple, remains unblemished even now!

He and his wife, an Adiyodi woman of Puthanchira, had four sons and a daughter. He died on the 27th of Medam 1115 (AD 1940).

3. Paryanampatta

Pariyanampatta Divakaran Nambudiripad was born in Makaram month of ME 1086 (1911) as the eldest son of paryanampatta Narayanan Nambudiripad and Savithry Antharjanam (Elamkulam Mahal). Christened as Divakaran, he was known as Kunchunny. He was the nepew of E M S Namboodiripad. Kunchunny had four sisters and two brothers. With practically no formal education other than the rudimentary literacy and arithmetic, and Othu, and with no job, he once happened to watch a magic show of the great Prof: Vaazhakunnam. He was so fascinated by it that he became Vaazhakunnam's student and later a magician.

He travelled with Vaazhakunnam and became the integral part of his magic shows. With a natural flair for comic acts, he could combine the two and make the shows more enjoyable. Some of his truly funny acts were, "Kumbaaranum Kumbaarathiyum" (the potter and his wife) [a mono-act], "Pisukkanaaya Kaaranavar" (the miserly head of the house), "Inauguration of a public function", and others. It was during that period that he began to be noticed as an actor too.

Famous through the cinema, drama especially, the mono-act, and in magic, Paryanampatta died in ME 1166 (1991) at the age of 80.

4. Padinjaredath Krishnan Bhattathiripad

Krishnan Bhattathiripad learned magic for four years during 1956 - 60 at age 18 under the tutorship of the famous Prof: Vaazhakunnam. It was mainly in the art of using "Cheppum Panthum".

He then became an assistant to the world-famous P C Sircar (Sr) and during the three years travelled with him to various parts of India and abroad. His part was mostly to do some funny and comic acts.

Bhattathiripad did not use magic shows to earn a living nor as a job. He has very few students, Raman (Ezhuthachhan) and Unnikrishnan being the main ones.

Later he tried acting in movies and making a movie, but both with not much success. He also tried his hand in the textile business at Coimbatore for a while. Presently, he is leading a retired life at home in Cherpu (near Thrissur), practising Yoga.

5. Vadakkeppad Parameswaran

Parameswaran belongs to Vadakkeppad Mana in Thiruvegappura and learned magic under Prof: Vaazhakunnam. He is known as Junior Namboodiri and continues to make appearances in magic shows. Address : Junior Namboodiri, Vadakkeppad Mana, Thiruvegappura - 679 304.

6. Sreekanth

Sreekanth is the son of Malamel Subramanian Namboothiri from Kidangoor, Kottayam. His paternal grand father, Malamel Parameswaran Namboothiri was a Saamaveda scholar who actively participated in many "Murajapams" in the temples of Kerala.

Sreekanth started learning magic at the age of 18, and has, so far, performed in more than 300 stages, including visual media. He is an active member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (USA) since 1993 and was the secretary of IBM INDIA Ring during 1996-1999. He is a recipient of International Wizards award by the IBM in 2003. His special interests include Mental Magic. He also serves as a guest professor at Magic Academy, Trivandrum. Despite his hectic schedules as the Asst. Vice President of AXIS Bank, he finds time to perform magic. (Telephone.: +91 4822 257474 Mob: +91 9447226802, Web: www.magician.org/member/sreekanth)


| Article No:35.2 | Last update of this article:22nd August 2009 |
Article written by :
1. Njayath Balan, PO: Mulayankavu, Kulukkallur - 679 337 - on "Prof: Vaazhakunnam"
2. Prof: V M N Nambudiripad - Rest of the items

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