- Venugopal SK
November 13, 2020
As part of my efforts to pay tributes to some of the finest gems in the field of Mohiniattam, who gave their lives and times to promote this beautiful dance form of Kerala, I wish to cover today, Kala Vijayan, one of the senior most dance teachers in Kerala, who I had a chance to interact with a few times during the past few months.
I first saw Kala teacher on FB through a post her daughter-in-law shared which contained an impromptu presentation of a padam written and composed by the doyen of Mohiniattam, Guru Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma. It was presented by her daughters Sreedevi Rajan and Kala Vijayan, granddaughters Smitha Rajan, Sandhya Rajan, Sreedevi Babu, Sukanya Sreekumar, Nandana Sreekumar, Sauparna Sasikumar, and Kala Vijayan's daughter-in-law Dhanya Ajith. From childhood, I have been a great admirer of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair Asan and Kalyanikutty Amma. Therefore when I saw this post, it was quite natural for me to feel nostalgic and at the same thrilled to see the gifted family performing the item written and composed by the legend.
Kala teacher then started the series called 'Mohini Attathiloode' on Facebook, sharing the treasures of knowledge that she inherited from her parents in simple and authentic manner. The first episode itself was so absorbing and interesting, that I started following the series very religiously offering my humble comments below those posts. After a couple of episodes, I had the opportunity to talk to her and thereafter my appreciation for her initiative grew multifold, having known her selfless intent to propagate the knowledge she gathered from her mother and from her own research work, for the benefit of discerning students, with no commercial interest whatsoever.
If you watch at least one episode you would understand what I am trying to say. She takes good time in explaining intricacies of the techniques of the dance form, with specific focus on each aspect like postures, 'chuzhippus', 'mudras' etc. in great detail. With 23 episodes gone by and more to follow, I hope that the present generation of artistes, students, teachers and even dance loving public would spare time to watch these episodes which she uploads on FB every Sunday morning without fail. The thought about knowing her journey in dance and her experiences, occurred to me naturally with passage of time and I ventured on the subject through a series of chats with her.
Born in 1944 at Desamangalam village near Shornur to a family of artistes, she naturally inherited the talent by birth. Her mother Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, also known as mother of Mohiniattam, was a 'Kalidasa awardee' and her contributions towards reviving, reforming and setting a 'Kacheri sampradaya' for Mohiniattam is remembered by connoisseurs of this dance form till date. Her father Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair Asan was a Padmasri awardee and a Kathakali artiste who popularized the form worldwide. His reputation was such that even artistes of other dance forms were fascinated by his 'navarasa abhinaya.' I am told even Guru Padma Subrahmanyam had taken lessons from him in 'mukhabhinaya.'
Born to such greats, Kala Vijayan was fortunate to get trained both in Mohiniattam and Kathakali right from childhood. She also learned Bharatanatyam from Guru Thanjavur A.R.R. Bhaskar. She did her earliest performance in Mohiniattam at the tender age of 4 and started teaching from the age of 14 under the vigilant supervision of her mother. Performing Mohiniattam till the age of 52, she is game for a performance even today at the age of 76, if she is convinced of an appreciative crowd. Her father gave her training in Kathakali from the age of 8 and she did her arangettam in Kathakali at the age of 10. She started learning Bharatanatyam along with Kathakali at the age of 8 and did arangettam also in a couple of years. She further pursued Bharatanatyam from Kalakshetra in Chennai under their scholarship. She used to perform Bharatanatyam on stage till the age of 36. She pursued academic education till Pre-University and later was fully engrossed in the chosen field of dance performances, choreography and coaching.
Her first love always has been Mohiniattam and therefore she continued her research in Mohiniattam by study of Tantrik Mudras and Gramya Mudras. She also introduced 25 new 'adavaus' in Mohiniattam in addition to 32 already developed by her mother. She is presently the Principal Director of the Kalyani-Krishnan Fine Arts Academy (Kerala Kalalayam) which was founded by her parents in 1952. She has configured a syllabus for Mohiniattam BA and MA courses as also an 8 year course for children from age of 5 in Mohiniattam as well as Bharatanatyam. The academy follows this syllabus. She has also been actively involved in the text book preparation for department of Karnataka Government as Chairperson of the Mohiniattam section.
Like her famous brother Late Kalasala Babu, Kala Vijayan also had a stint in acting. She started as a child artiste in a professional drama troupe when she was 10 and followed it up till the age of 18, acting in many amateur drama troupes. Her sister Sreedevi Rajan is a well-known exponent and teacher in these dance forms and together, they assisted their mother in her choreographies as long as Kalyanikutty Amma was alive and active.
After the times of her celebrated parents, Kala Vijayan traversed her own path by taking up the reins of the academy founded by her parents at Thripunithura in which she still continues as its guiding force. There are umpteen numbers of choreographies she has done in Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam. Over a 100 of them at least, she says, would be original choreographies. This includes an item based on story of Job from the Bible choreographed in Mohiniattam style. Her creative pursuits include couple of dance dramas, 'Kannagi' based on Silapathikaram and 'Kalam' based on 4 seasons. Her attempt to do a fusion of dancing styles in her choreography of 'Bhavayami Raghuramam' with Kathakali, Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam, was widely acclaimed by critics.
The Kacheri Sampradaya in Mohiniattam was first introduced by Kalyanikutty Amma. She designed a protocol of presentation of items in a particular order to include a Ganapathy Sthuthi, Cholkettu, Jathiswaram, Varnam, Padam, Thillana, slokam and Saptham. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Kala Vijayan too created one kacheri with her own compositions with lyrics and music done by her. She went on to write and compose 2 cholkettus, 11padams, 5 varnams, 1 thillana and 3 Sapthams. Like her mother, she too had exemplary skills in writing and this was well demonstrated in her 392 pages book 'Mohiniattam Ariyendathellam' published by D.C. Books. This book is part of the syllabus of R.L.V. College and Sree Sankara University in Kalady. She has conducted many demonstrations on Mohiniattam at various institutions and Fine Arts societies.
Former Kerala minister K. Babu honouring Kala Vijayan in presence of music director and singer Ramesh Narayan
Kala Vijayan has won several awards and accolades during her eventful career. Some of them are: State Award for Mohiniattam from Govt. of Kerala (2019), Swathi Thirunal Performing Arts Trust Award for Mohiniattam (2006), Natya Kalanidhi Award from Kerala Nritha Kala Vedi (2005), Natyasree Award from Kala Darpan (2002), Honorary Award from Kathakali Kendra, Thripunithura (2000), Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Award for Mohiniattam (1998), Senior fellowship from the cultural department of Govt. of India (1993), Junior fellowship from the cultural department of Govt. of India, Natyakalarathnam Award by Sahrudaya Samithi, Thripunithura (1978).
About her family: Her husband C.K. Vijayan is a retired F.A.C.T employee and her only son Ajith Vijayan is a talented actor, at the same time busy managing the administration of their Academy by serving as Managing Director. His wife Dhanya Ajith is a wonderful dancer, who has been trained by Kala Vijayan for over 15 years. Dhanya is assisting her mother-in-law and husband in the affairs of the academy. Kala Vijayan has two granddaughters Gayathri and Gouri. While Gayathri after completing her graduation has joined R.L.V. Academy taking up specialization in dance, her sister is more into drawing and painting.
Kala Vijayan with Bharati Shivaji
Kala teacher has been imparting training to many students initially by assisting her mother and after the demise of her mother, she continued teaching a number of students in her own academy. The eminent Mohiniattam exponent Dr. Deepti Omcheri Bhalla in a recent interview fondly remembered those training sessions under Kala teacher. Many of her disciples have by now established their own institutions all over India and abroad. Some are teaching in CBSE schools. To name a few, let me take the names of Smitha Rajan, Sandhya Rajan, Deepa Saaju (Delhi), Uma Menon (Bangalore), Ramya Varma Jagadeesh (Mumbai), Dr. Shalini Harikumar (H.O.D of Mohiniattam Department in RLV College), Aiysha (Lecturer, Sree Sankara University, Kalady), Dr. Abu (H.O.D, Mohiniattam Dept. Sree Sankara University, Kalady), Dr. R.L.V. Ramakrishnan, Dr. Jolly Mathew, Dr. Mohan Das (Muscat) and many more. There are students of Kala teacher running schools in Amsterdam and other parts of the world.
During our chat she expressed a wish that the Mohiniattam fraternity should stay united, appreciating each other's work, rather than standing divided even while following their respective styles or 'baanis'. She mentioned about a difference of opinion her mother had on the hairdo style followed ever since 1969 after Guru Kalamandalam Sathyabhama tried that change on Kalamandalam Sugandhi for the first time ever. On this issue she says her mother herself had declared in a meeting at Kalamandalam, those who wish to follow that hairdo may do so, but she prefers the traditional system as taught to follow in Kalamandalam right from its inception. She had her reasons to say so for she believed in yogic traditions based on which the original style was decided upon. However even her own students were allowed to do the 'kondai' either way based on their liking. Kala teacher says it's not the hairdo that matters but the quality of dancing. Each style has its own beauty and let us appreciate this with an open mind, she opined. However, she says there has to be a borderline for introducing changes to ensure the classical status of the dance form to stay intact. Interactions between teachers should help in this context, so that a common 'Pramana samhitha' can be designed like what Kalamandalam Sugandhi teacher once suggested in an interview. I pray that her wish is fulfilled if not soon, at least in the near future.
Venugopal S.K is a businessman in the field of Engineering projects, a singer, composer, accredited artiste in Light Music at All India Radio, auditioned and graded member of panel of speakers in Films Division of India, associated with Mohiniattam for over 4 decades as accompanying musician and music composer.
Very well written covering Kala teacher's entire journey.
(Dec 29, 2020)
I am very pleased to read this column on Kala Vijayan whom we know from her childhood. A wonderful and consummate artiste, she is a good combination of her illustrious father Krishnan Nair Asaan and Kalyanikutty Amma. While studying in Kalakshetra, Kala used to perform Poothana Moksham quite often getting appreciation from Rukmini Devi Amma. We, her seniors in the institution, used to wonder about her facial expressions imbibed from her legendary father Krishnan Nair. Some of us in Kalakshetra had the privilege of getting trained under Krishnan Nair Asaan. Kala Vijayan got her histrionic excellence from her father and literary scholarship from her mother who was both a scholar in Malayalam and Mohiniattam. Both Kala Vijayan and her sister Devi are carrying the lineage of great artistes. My blessings to them
- V.P.Dhananjayan, Chennai (Nov 22, 2020)
Feel blessed to receive a comment from you, Sir, on my humble attempt to write about an artist who I hold in very high esteem for her silent yet noteworthy contributions in promoting the dance form most selflessly. I am sure she will be elated to read your comments. My pranams to you, Sir.
- Venugopal SK (Nov 26, 2020)
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