God's Own Country called! 
Report from Trivandrum, Kerala  
Photos courtesy: Natanagramam 

July 6, 2009 

All through the last 3 months, Trivandrum has been busy with reviving the memory of its dance great, Guru Gopinath. Last year being his birth centenary, lots of focus has gone on the man, his mission and his legacy. This year, the SPIC MACAY annual convention was held in Trivandrum. 

Guru Gopinath was a pioneering Kathakali dancer discovered by American, Ragini Devi. In his lifetime, he made Madras and Delhi his base and returned to Kerala in his end years. He was instrumental in discovering main talents like the Travancore Sisters, Guru Gopalakrishnan and many others.  

Last year, his second daughter Vilasini Gopinath Ramchandran, IAS, Gujarat cadre, mooted the idea to put together an issue on Guruji and dance server Ashish Mohan Khokar took up the idea and made it into a handsome issue of Attendance 2009. (www.attendance-india.com). She further recommended certain key writers who knew Guruji well to contribute key articles.  

Gurujiís long-term student G Venu, who with his family has put Irinjalakuda on world dance map now, with his service to Ammannur Chakyar and promotion of local artistes, wrote in a handsome and sincere recollection, as did Tapati Chowdhury, another acolyte from Kolkata. Valmiki Banerjee blessed the attempt while Guru Gopalakrishnan had done his own book on Kerala Natanam, the style Guruji created and is being projected now. Vasanthi Jayaswal, Gurujiís inheritor and senior most student, also recorded her memories for Attendance and Vinodini, the youngest daughter, ex-actress also mustered some memories. 

The progressive Left government of Kerala and its dynamic Culture and Education Minister, Mr. MA Baby, have supported Gurujiís art by institutionalising it. Thus, over the last decade, Natanagramam has been set up on land given by Guruji for the purpose. Today, the institution has a fine amphitheatre seating over a thousand and several small classrooms, where eager children learn different art forms. The institution is supported by handsome grants from the Kerala govt and plans are afoot to also make a national dance museum there. 

To celebrate all this, Natanagramam organised a national seminar on status of classical Indian dance today and lots of star talents came all the way: Dr Padma Subrahmanyam from Chennai; Valmiki Banerjee from Delhi; Renuka Narayanan, Arts Editor of Hindustan Times, Delhi; Mysore Sridhar Jain, cine actor-dancer; diva of modern dance Daksha Sheth, based on the outskirts of Trivandrum; Guru Gopalakrishnan and Kusum amma from Kodaganallur; Methil Devika from Palakkad and local Mohiniattam star, Neena Prasad. Ashish Mohan Khokar, the well-known dance historian, critic and editor- publisher of Attendance, moderated the seminar, which had a record turnout of over 500 participants! 

Earlier, the Attendance special issue was released by MA Baby on 31st May and for this Kalamandalam Gopi, the living legend of Kathakali, came from Thrissur and poet ONV felicitated while Daksha Sheth participated. A short snippets of films on Guruji was also shown on the occasion, by film donations given by Vasanthi Jayaswal from Los Angeles.  Natanagramam staff and Vice Chair attended, even though Kamala Das, national star poetess-author of Kerala had died the night before and there was gloom all around. 

Apart from appreciating the value of Attendance, Mr. Baby further announced that this was seminal work which ought to be in every university library and school teaching dance. He also extolled all those involved with the journal, now in its eleventh year. 

Ashish Mohan Khokar conducted the Seminar on 22 June at Swati Tirunal College of Music. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyamís paper was thought provoking as it stated the importance of classical dances. Guru Gopalakrishnan recalled his days with Guru Gopinath fondly and Valmiki Banerjee took all on a time train. Renuka Narayanan and Daskha Sheth did some plain talking and put many issues in perspective while Mysore Sridhar Jain said how by his own example, more children were learning Indian classical dances. Neena Prasad read a paper while Methil Devika made an impressive speech extolling the fact that classical dance was thriving despite many odds. 
In the evening, a lavish function inaugurated the amphitheatre where a few students showcased Kerala Natanam which is in severe need of documentation and repertoire structuring. Excessive make-up has ruined the beauty of the form making it a caricature. Natanagramam needs professional inputs to run properly.  

On the concluding day, star performer Shobana (of Travancore Sisters family fame) performed some engaging Bharatanatyam. The audience turned out in plenty to see this star of the south, hailing from Travancore. Shobana has a fetching form and a very expressive face. A good actress, she does justice to her dance though her abhinaya is too busy to warrant focus. 

Guru Gopinath's son-in-law T Sasimohan, journalist, helped tirelessly to organise all events, spread over 2 months with inputs of Natanagramam director, Shri Sudarshan.

Guru Gopinath remains a pioneer and on 15th July, a function is to be held at Habitat Centre in Delhi where iconic film director Shyam Benegal will receive the first copy of Attendance from Dr Karan Singh. Shashi Tharoor, MP from Trivandrum, will participate while Shanta Serbjeet Singh will introduce the evening organised by U Radhakrishna, who knew Guru Gopinath from Delhi days when he stayed there often and composed and created Ramlila of Bharatiya Kala Kendra.