Foremost among contemporary Kathakali singers,
Kottakkal Narayanan represents a harmonious blend of traditional rigour and modern innovation in Kathakali music. He is a direct disciple of Kalamandalam Neelakantan Nambisan, who honed and developed the historically formative musical style of his legendary guru Venkitakrishna Bhagavathar into the principal style of modern-day Kathakali music.
Consummate mastery in the delineation of the raga, complete clarity in musical phrasing and its nuances, a deep understanding of the literary text, a theatrical quality that gathers into the musical rendition both the emotive content and the dramatic context, and an informed control over the affairs of the stage, are all salient attributes of Kottakakal Narayanan’s music. The ability to do full justice to the combinatory mode whether he is the primary singer or the secondary one, full awareness of his role as a musician in the success of the performance, and total commitment to his duties as a teacher and trainer are the other major features that distinguish Narayanan. Narayanan’s strength lies especially in the rendering of the highly systematic and stylized plays that comprise the essential repertoire of Kathakali, where he excels in maintaining the systemic integrity of the padams
(verses) even while imparting to them stylistic variations that capture the imagination of connoisseurs.
Born on 14 May 1960 at Nellaya (Palghat District), to Mulur Madhom Kelu Nedungadi, an Ashtapadi singer, and Karumana Kamalakshi Amma, an initiate of Carnatic music, Narayanan joined the PSV Natyasangham for training in Kathakali music at the age of twelve. His first teacher was Kottakkal Vasu Nedungadi, following which he received tutelage from Kottakakal Parameswaran Nambudiri, Kottakakal Gopala Pisharody, Kalamandalam Unnikrishna Kurup, and finally from Kalamandalam Neelakantan Nambisan. Narayanan did his arangettam
(debut performance) at Kottakkal Viswambhara Kshetram, the very same year he started training. His training lasted for ten years, from 1972 to 1982, the last two years being on a scholarship. He joined the PSV Natyasangham as a teacher the very year he completed his training and has been serving there since, becoming the Head of the Music Department in 1995.
Kottakkal Narayanan has received many awards, recognitions, performed in many audio and video productions, also performed abroad many times.