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KERALA NATANAM: Smt. Chitra Mohan – An exponent of the new style of dance form

January 27, 2021 , Thodupuzha K Shankar Mumbai

INTRODUCTION:

KERALA NATANAM, a splendid and unique dance form prevalent in Kerala, was evolved and developed from KATHAKALI, a favourite ancient dance drama, performed during temple festivals and on other stages on cultural occasions. Mastering the Kathakali dance drama is a hazardous task which warrants more patience, time and a quick grasping power to attain perfection. There are eminent GURUS or Acharyas or masters in this field who have spenttheir whole life time with absolute dedication, determination andperseverance and with the object of mastering this art form of dance drama.

Kathakali is a different genre of classical Indian dance or story play, performed by male dancers traditionally with typical costumes, face masks(for certain characters in the modern Kathakali  presentations),colourful make upand style of expressing mythological stories or religious legends and spiritual ideas plucked from the Hindu EPICS and ITHIHASASwith suitable bhava or facial expressions, mudras or gestures and rhythmic body movements, in tandem with the music rendered from the back ground. In modern compositions, Indian Kathakali troupes have started including women artistes alsoas well as including adaptations of western stories and plays such as those by Shakespeare. In short, a KATHAKALI performance, like other classical dance art forms of India, synthesises music, vocal performers, choreography and hand and facial gestures to express ideas. It is believed that the fully developed style of KATHAKALI originated around 17th century, but its roots are in the temples and folk arts such as Krishnanattam and religious drama of the South western Indian Peninsula.

As per the etymology, the term KATHAKALI, is derived from the Sanskrit word KATHA, which means story or conversation or a traditional tale and KALI from KALA which means performance and art, with the dance symbolizing the eternal fight between GOOD and EVIL! It is attributed to SAGE BHARATHA (BHARATHA RUSHI) who devised all the classical dance forms like BHARATHA NATYAM, a popular branch of NATYASASTHRA. It is stated that NATYASASTHRA consists of about 6000 verses comprising of 36 chapters.

GENESIS OF KERALA NATANAM:

KERALA NATANAM, the unique dance form with its roots of origin from KATHAKALI, was developed by the well trained and renowned Kathakali artiste Dr. GURU GOPINATH and his wife THANKAMANI GOPINATH, a world acclaimed danseuse, who was the first student of MOHINIYATTAM in KERALA KALA MANDALAM.  He was an ardent devotee of GODDESS MOOKAMBIKA, the deity of wisdom and prosperity. With his rich obeisance and by virtue of his handsome figure and magnetic personality as well as his exemplary qualities of transparent humility, he could create and indelible imprint in the minds of those who viewed his presentations and also those who were closely associated with him in Delhi where he had founded the KERALA KALA KENDRAM! He also became the VICE PRESIDENT of the DELHI MALAYALEE ASSOCIATION. It is mentioned in the book on KERALA NATANAM that poet RAVINDRANATH TAGORE, the pride of India called him “ABHINAVA NATARAJAN”!About his peacock dance it is believed that no artiste could ever present it with as much excellence as he did at any point of time.

Well, the Guru Gopinath couple, found traditional pieces existing side by side with those modified versions to present a variety of themes. Their styles relied heavily on the ANGIKA ABHINAYA(body movements and gestures) and SATVIKA ABHINAYA (facial expressions)from KATHAKALI. The major stance of KATHAKALI was changed by GURU GOPINATH to a more convenient pose that could rest well with the TRIBHANGA concept. Another significant deviation from the traditional art form was in AHARYA ABHINAYA(costume mode) where they adopted costumes and facial make up to suit the respective role.Thus, in a dance sequence on Jesus Christ, the dancer dressed like Jesus Christ. In social dances, the artistes wore the dresses of laborers, peasants, folks etc. Likewise, roles of Sri Krishna, king, snake charmer, hunter etc. all had appropriate attire. For the first time, Carnatic music compositions normally used for concerts were adopted and rendered into dance forms by Guru Gopinath. Unlike traditional KATHAKALI and MOHINIATTTAM, a variety of musical instruments were added to his presentations.

Though he didn’t give any name to this typical dance form during his life time, after his death, the movement to give a name to his dance form gained momentum.

In 1993, during the Global Conference on GURU GOPINATH AND KERALA NATANAM, held in Trivandrum, a Sanskrit definition was given to this style of dance, by his disciples, KERALEEYA SASTHREEYA SANGATHATHMAKA NRITHAM, a traditional creative dance style originating from KERALA. So, they brought this distinct dance form under the separate nomenclature “KERALA NATANAM” Which involves the major salient features of KATHAKALI, the popular dance drama of KERALA.

KERALA NATANAM can be performed in three ways:

1)EKANGA NATANAM(SOLO DANCE)

2)SANGHA NATANAM(GROUP DANCE) and

3)NATAKA NATANAM(DANCE- DRAMA ENACTING A STORY)

Male – female pair dancing is a striking feature of KERALA NATANAM. He had framed the dance- drama in such a way to make for 5 to 6 hours long performance called INDIAN BALLET also.

This is the story of the origin growth and continuance of this wonderful genre of dance drama that continues to regale and enthral the audience in Kerala as well as everywhere!

A THUMBNAIL SKETCH OF THE ARTISTE SMT: CHITRA MOHAN:

SMT: CHITRA MOHAN is a well -known danseuse in KERALA who has been practising this novel art and also successfully teaching thousands of students with robust enthusiasm and involvement for the last several decades.

SMT CHITRA MOHAN, the danseuse and the dance exponent in this featured article belongs to KERALA and presently practising and teaching KERALA NATANAM in Trivandrum. She was born in TRICHUR into a middle class NAMBOOTHIRI family as one of the eight daughters, with two brothers also, to Shri.Krishnan Namboothiri and Smt.Sreedevi Andarjjanam. After completing her basic school education, her priority to choose a favourite line of activity fell on KERALA NATANAM, the new form in the genre of dance, evolved in 1931by GURU GOPINATH and his wife Smt. THANKAMANI GOPINATH, the first student in MOHINIATTAM, from KATHAKALI, the well- known ancient DANCE DRAMA of KERALA. With this end in view, she did her four years’ diploma NATANA BHOOSHANAM. Thereafter, she served as a dance teacher for 45 years and presently, contributing a great deal for the development of this specially designed dance form.

Incidentally, there was a turning point in her dancing career and consequently, herfocus shifted to KERALANATANAM which she wanted to promote and propagateas far as possible. Presently, she is working with RANGA PRABHAT CHILDRENS’ THEATRE at VENJARANMOOD, Trivandrum where she is teaching KERALA NATANAM to enthusiastic children. She has stated that this dance form has less of NATYADHARMI. More emphasis is on footwork, beginning with ADI THALA, Madhyavarthy Thandava steps, Madhyavarthy Lasya Steps, Parswavarthy Thandava steps, Parswavarthy Lasya steps, Kalasas, Theerumanas etc. She has stated that the MUDRAS were taken from HASTHALAKSHANA DEEPIKA.

KERALANATANAM followed the basic principles of NATYASASTHRA, ABHINAYA DARPPANA AND NANDIKESA CHARITHAM. It is praiseworthy that Smt:Chitra Mohan, being a good poetess also composed the requisite poems for this dance form in line with the subject selected to suit the steps and body movements. The composition of the poems should bring out the quintessence of the dance recital so that the viewer can easily assimilate or comprehend the theme. The poems are normally based upon the stories in the epics or mythologies or Ithihasa or some historical khandakavya. She asserts that there are hundreds of enthusiastic students in her academy and the classes were going on in full swing. But owing to the widespread pandemic situation, the classes have been suspended for the for the time being and waiting to resume once this precarious situation gets over and normalcy returns.

She has stated that she joined the OUR LADY OF FATIMA SCHOOL GURGAON in Haryana to acquire more knowledge in the art so that she can impart proper training to the students in future. She has spread this dance form to New Delhi, U P, Rajasthan, Assam, Bhopal, chandigarh, Chennai with the help of her scholarship students of Delhi.  She recalls that she faced many problems in the initial stages of growth and development of this dance form and hopes for its bright future that one day its status will shift from folk dance and assume the status of the traditional classical dance form.

A new classical dance class has been set up in DELHI and its name is”CHAITHRA JYOTHI NATANA VIDYALAYAM” which is progressively moving ahead. Her sole aim and ambition now, is to carry on with her tireless perseverance and optimistic pursuance to promote this novel genre developed from KATHAKALI. So, the genesis of this dance is from KATHAKALI, the most popular traditional dance drama of Kerala.

She has mentioned in the book KERALA NATANAM (2017) authored by her and published by the KERALA BHASHA INSTITUTE THIRUVANANTHA PURAM KERALA that her debut into the field of dance was at the age of eleven by joining the Shree Chithra Home dance group as a dancer initially. After her marriage, for Kerala Natanam, she composed suitable poems with music matching the episode, for the dance dramas viz, AHALYA MOKSHAM, SHANKARACHARYA, SHREE KRISHNA BALA LEELA and PUSHPAVATI in a sequence. In addition, she trained and presented many dance programs jointly with the dance troupe of LEELA OMCHERY in 2004 on many platforms.

While in Delhi she could present many dance dramas with the support of her sister REVATHY KRISHNAN(music) and LEELA OMCHERY, on number of platforms. LEELA OMCHERY’S famous SAMBHU KUMARAM and ONAPPATTUKAL were also presented together with her troupe on many occasions. During the same period, Smt. AKHILA KRISHNA’s SHASTHA PANCHA RATHNAM was also appropriately tuned and duly presented under SMT. CHITRA MOHAN’s able guidance. All these proved to be major milestones in her dedicated brilliant dancing career!

PRINCIPAL ARCHITECTS OF KERALA NATANAM:

Smt. Chitra Mohan has mentioned in her resume that two important artistes are the principal architects who had played a pivotal role in evolving and designing the novel dance form KERALA NATANAM, by extracting certain fundamental features from KATHAKALI, the traditional Indian dance drama. The two important artistes are Late DR. GURU GOPINATH and Late Smt. RAGINI DEVI, whose yearsof research and hard work resulted in theformation of this distinct dance form. They had toured together all over the North India and Russia, with their professional troupefor the promotion and propagation of this novel art form. At one stage, he had to wind up the troupe due to financial crunch and join KALAMANDALAM as a student again. Thereafter, he got married to Thankamani, a dancer in the genre of MOHINIYATTAM and formed the THANKAMANI GOPINATH DANCE TROUP. Subsequently, a separate dance school by name CHITHRODAYA DANCE SCHOOL, was established in the premises granted by the Trivandrum Palace.

Another very important artiste whom she nostalgically recalls is Late Shri. SANKARAN KUTTY, who was prominent among the students of CHITHRODAYA DANCE SCHOOL as well as her principal GURU who promoted KERALA NATANAM and played a very decisive role in her brilliant dancing career spanning 58 years! H is the one who was instrumental in getting sanctioned a portion of the required space in the SWATHI THIRUNAL VIDYALAYA, by the then government, exclusively for the benefit of KERALA NATANAM. Besides him, there were 5 more dance teachers working under him in the academy and the art flourished during their period. Though the art was churned out of KATHAKALI in 1931, It was only in 1957 that a definite curriculum was formulated for KERALA NATANAM. During this period, GURU GOPINATH was away in MADRAS (CHENNAI).

AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS:

Let us also have a glance at the awards and recognitions she has received in her brilliant dancing career shaped in Kerala as well as in other states like Delhi.

AWARDS:

1)Delhi Pachavadya Trust in 2015

2)Sangeeta Nataka Academy 2019

RECOGNITIONS:

1) Malayalee Association Gurgaon, Haryana

2) Our Lady of Fatima School Gurgaon

3) Asthik Samaj, New Delhi

4) Kerala House, New Delhi

5) International Kathakali Centre, New Delhi

6) Uthara Guruvayurappan Temple

7) Ayyappa Pooja Samithi Bhivaadi, Rajasthan

8) Nruthyanjali Kottarakkara, kerala

9) Bharat Bhavan, Trivandrum

10) Rangaprabhat Venjaramood, Trivandrum

11) Chattambi Swami Anusmaram

12) Vayalar Anusmaranam

13) Navarasam Sangeeta Sabha and

14) Darpana Dance School.

The above awards indicate the extent of her dedication and growth of this art form everywhere.

Smt. Chitra Mohan has mentioned that her debut in dancing commenced with a program at the famous MAMMAN MAPPILA HALL at Kottayam in Kerala when she was just eight years old which was followed by plenty of opportunities at many places in a row at a stage when she had not gained adequate confidence in dance. It was a major breakthrough that she became a student of the SWATHI THIRUNAL SANGEETA VIDYALAYA TRIVANDRUM to learn classical dance in a systematic way. Though she was hesitating initially, as time went on by virtue of discussion, reading, hearing and contacts with the professional dancers, she could muster up courage and convert her latent dream into an unbelievable reality! Thereafter, she wasinquisitive to learn more about the hitherto unknown facets of other types of dances and finally she selected and specialized in KERALA NATANAM as her principal area of activity. Thus, she has been practising and performing this special dance form churned out of KATHAKALI, with utmost affinity for the past 45 years and the seamless kinship, spanning over 58 years, continues unimpaired, nevertheless there were minor hurdles or impediments sometimes. Meantime, she learned and presented dance recitals on various stages by composing songs herself suitable for dramatics as well. So, her whole attention is to popularise this unique art, tailored and designed by GURU GOPINATH with great expectations as a tribute to him as well as contributing a novelty art to the dance and music lovers all over the world.

A GOLDEN FEATHER IN HER CAP:

The BHASHA INSTITUTE in TRIVANDRUM has now published the modified version of her much -awaited picturesque book being her second volume, on KERALA NATANAM,with her colourful stage photo on the cover page on 3rdDecember 2020. Her first volume priced at Rs.80/-also contains various colour phots and a colourful cover page. The second book with additional inputs and modifications being the proud achievement of her unceasing diligence and dedication was released by Dr. P.  Soman member of the Administration committee on 3rd December 2020 in the chamber of the Director of the Institute Prof: V Karthikeyan Nair in the presence of ShreeM N Balakrishnan, Dance teacher of Jawahar Balabhavan, Smt. Chitra Mohan the authoress of the book, Jawahar Balabhavan and Smt. Sreekala ChingolI, the editor of the Bhasha Institute. The book is priced at Rs. 90/-. This is a great achievement of Smt. Chitra Mohan, a golden feather in her dancing career, a laudable land mark achievement in her brilliant dancing career spanning over 45 years. In her whole dancing career, she hasbravelyovercome many obstacles, hurdles, hassles, hardships and harrowing experiences and the book on KERALA NATANAM is a classic testimony to her relentless determination and dedication. Moreover, the book is a fitting tribute to Late Dr.Guru Gopinath for the matchless sacrifices he had made to carve out a new dance form viz, KERALA NATANAM!

CONCLUSION:

The prime objective of every artiste is to portray some character in Purana or history with the traditional costumes suitable for the role. It needs lots of perception and practice by identifying with the particular character in all respects. The dancer in this article Smt. Chitra Mohan is also striving her best to manifest that the characters she portrays conform to the chosen characters in the story.

Art is the fusion of action and dedication!

Let us wish SMT. CHITRA MOHAN long life and sound health to continue to contribute for the popularisation of this noble art form not only in India but also all over the word, particularlyamong the Indian diaspora everywhere. Also, may the ALMIGHTY GOD bless her to become theever -remembered paragon of dedication and excellence in her specialised arena of KERALA NATANAM!

LET MUSIC AND DANCE ALWAYS REMAIN HEART TO HEART AND EVERGREEN

HAND IN HAND

DEEPLY BONDED TOGETHER LIKE TWO PEAS IN APOD!

Thodupuzha K Shankar Mumbai


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