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Thouryathrikam by Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan
- Padma Jayaraj

June 8, 2024

It was a rainy day, cloud-cast sky. Yet dance lovers gathered for a dance performance, in the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi Hall in Thrissur, showcased by Navaneetham Cultural Trust. It was a solo performance by Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan, a Mohiniyattam dancer hailing from Irinjalakuda.

She is a disciple of Guru Nirmala Panicker, who has been a dancer, choreographer, and researcher of repute for many years. To this day, Nirmala Panicker stands unbeaten in her findings on the relation between Mohiniyattam, and the female dance theatre of Kerala. She believes that Mohiniyattam can be enriched only by drawing immensely from the female dance traditions of Kerala.

Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan

The very ambience that the stage decoration created was unique, evoking the temple precincts typical of Kerala. And the dance performance showcased desi style of Mohiniyattam, which was raked up, evolved, and revitalised by Guru Nirmala Panicker. Here, Kalyani Menon presented Thouryathrikam on the evening of 31st May 2024.

The customary Ganesa vandanam was simply exceptional as it dramatized Bala Ganapathy growing up with those special affinities that became the hallmark of his very nature. The mother-child relationship highlighted, made it a standalone item with special significance. Varnam followed in the structured style, in perfect balance between pure dance and abhinaya. It presented the story of Parvathy's thapasya to win over Siva; her love and longing in the midst of blooming spring, Kaama dhahana, finally Lord Siva as ardhanareeswara. Another item dealt with the story behind the revered name Neelakantha during the Deva-Asura fight.

What made the performance special, were the unusual items that surprised and exhilarated the audience. Sabtam, meaning sound, is a poem by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, well known for his love of Kerala's traditional arts. This poem, set to dance numbers evoked the sounds that waters make in its varied forms in this water-logged corridor, Kerala, between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea in the monsoon season. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that the whole of India endures heat waves while Kerala is drenched in the rain. The onomatopoeic sounds in the poem, highlighted by the musical instruments in the background, synchronised with the sounds of the dancer dancing in the rain. The bounty of Nature in her varied manifestations, were presented in the desi style of Mohiniyattam which is unique. And as it rained outside the hall as well, it was the sound of rain, rain and rain, everywhere!

Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan

Odiyan was another mesmerising item. Kurathy is a folk soothsayer, the wandering woman who comes down to the valley from her home in the Ghat region. She loves the landscape, the folds of the mountain terrain, the foggy expanse, the home grown trees, grassy stretches, plants, vegetation, the rains and the wind. Here, Kurathy speaks of the odiyan, those who know the art of transforming themselves into animal-like creatures to fight their battles. Odi is an occult art practised by the tribal communities. They prowl in the darkness like animals and pounce on the enemy to kill. The feudal times in Kerala witnessed such encounters between the tribals and the feudal landlords. I was reminded of my own childhood in a hamlet on the banks of river Nila, where Kurathy with her parrot was a joyous sight that kids enjoyed. The happy Kurathy, part of the terrain, retreats into its folds. And I came back to reality to know that the dance had ended.

Padma Jayaraj
Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts.

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