Published: 18th December 2019
Kerala's first calligraphy festival aims to promote the beauty of the Malayalam alphabet
The founder of Kachatathapa opens up about why the calligraphy festival is his way of celebrating Malayalam and how it aims to unite calligraphy enthusiasts
Narayana Bhattathiri is probably one of the best things to happen to Malayalam calligraphy. Or at least, that's the opinion held by the calligraphers who participated in his brainchild of an event, Kachatathapa. Dubbed the National Calligraphy Festival of Kerala, it was held on December 9, 10 and 11 with a range of exhibitions, workshops, talks, a live demo and some good old dance and music.
Ramu Bhattathiri, his son, was one of the major organisers of the event. He says, "Malayalam literature is one of the best in the country. if you take lettering or calligraphy, other indian languages are held in much higher regard. But people here do not know much about calligraphy or the art of lettering. This is because we haven't really embraced the art forms as Malayalam speakers. My father has been teaching in universities and schools across the state for years now and he has always pointed out that this is one major reason why Malayalam lettering doesn't not have a place in the world."
So, Narayana took the initiative himself. Ramu recollects, "The most important reason behind it was that he often asked why our language, with such beautiful letters, does not have a place in the world of calligraphy. This was the thought process behind setting up Kachatathapa. He hoped that people would attend the event and realise the importance of languages, the way we write them and appreciate them. And hopefully, it would inspire more people to want to be a part of it." More than 70 participants attended the festival, which was held in Thiruvananthapuram. Out of this, 40 of them were students. A large chunk of them were students of animation and art looking for inspiration and to dig up some history on what Malayalam design is and its history.
10 major calligraphers formed one of the most important elements of the event. From Achyut Palav to Akshaya Thombre, they all displayed their skills in the art of calligraphy and interacted with students on how they could also learn to hone their craft in their own personal way. The experts fielded questions and conducted talks. A quiz was conducted by Professor Udaya Kumar Dharmalingam, who famously designed the Indian rupee symbol. "We also had academicians from the field interacting with the students and other participants," says Ramu.
He adds, "The crowd did not just come to help my father restore the lost appreciation for Malayalam lettering! When he was teaching calligraphy in institutions, he never got a particularly great response. He wanted to open up the access to this towards the public and we actually got a great response. The people who participated were not just from Kerala, they came from Tamil Nadu, Mumbai and various parts of the country where the art form is appreciated. In addition to this, we also had people coming in from Kerala who were working professionals. The crowd was mixed, they were not all great calligraphers and may not have had enough knowledge on the subject, but came to strengthen their foundation. Their only feedback was to extend the festival for longer and to more parts of the country."