As an artist, Bhadra Rajaneesh had lady luck shining on her ever since she was a child. Growing up in a family with art enthusiasts, Bhadra got the opportunity to explore music through chenda, taught to her by some of the luminaries in the field. Later, she went on to marry the prominent young chakyar koothu exponent Ammannoor Rajaneesh Chakyar and began exploring her love for koothu.
Though she has been away from performances for quite a while, Bhadra is on an attempt to revive some of the forgotten parts of koodiyattam.
“My introduction to chenda happened unexpectedly. When I was in class VIII, a new temple priest was appointed in the temple next to my home. He knew the chenda. We once happened to listen to his children perform the chenda for their arangettam and my sister and I were catching on to the rhythmic beats. My mother was quick to say, ‘Had they been boys, we could have sent them to learn the chenda’. The temple priest, however, had a different opinion. He said it was ok for girls to learn the instrument. He was my first guru.” The sisters then went on to study under Kalamandalam Shashi Poduval. “We had our arangetram by December, 2001.”
Late Kathakali percussionist, actor Kalamandalam Kesavan, is her maternal uncle. It was he who suggested that the girls take further lessons under Mattannoor Sankarankutty. “I learnt under Mattannoor ashan and his sons for two to three years. I perfected the art to a point where I could perform with him. But with time, he too started getting busy. Once again Kesavan ammavan got involved and we got Malamakkavu Prabhakara Poduval as our guru.”
While in college, the sisters had performed for a TV programme as well. “Though with time chenda faded a bit from my life, the performance for the channel led to my marriage with Rajaneesh, who is also currently my guru.” She is also learning koodiyattam under Rajaneesh.
Bhadra is currently pursuing her PhD at the Sree Sankaracharya University, Kalady. “I am doing my research with the Department of Sanskrit Literature and my PhD is in Koodiyattam, about how stories from the Ramayana go through a change when brought to stage.”
Bhadra, who is also keen writer, is halfway through with a book. “The book is about Subhadra-Dhananjayan, a compilation of various parts of the performance that is not in use today. Only the first part is performed in Kuttiyattom today, no one has been performing the other parts for years,” she says.
Bhadra is also planning on working on a book about various gurus of traditional art forms.
“My intention is to learn more about these art forms and pass on their value to the public through books and write-ups. Hopefully, through this, I can bring to light various excellent artists and gurus who go unrecognised,” she concludes.