The life of renowned Mohiniyattam artiste KalamandalamKshemavathy is full of struggles and achievements. She underwent rigorous training to become a dance performer and the result was overwhelming, tell the honours and awards smiling at you from the shelf at home. The nation has honoured her with the coveted civilian award, Padmashree. She cheerfully takes you down her memory lane
It was easy to find out her house in Hari Nagar in Thrissuras the place has been always reverberated with the rhythmic sound of ankle bells accompanied with pleasing keertanas. Kshemavathy, the world renowned Mohiniyattam artiste was at the door with a broad smile to welcome me in. She, at her late 60s looked very young and cheerful. She sat down with me and started unwinding the wonderful story of an ordinary village girl, who, because of her passion for dance and training under masters, became the Mohiniyattam artiste, whom the world adores.
Ksheemavathystarted learning dance at a very young age , taking lessons from masters in the village. One day her guru Kochukuttanasan told her that he could not teach her anymore and she went home crying. An old lady came out from a house on the roadside and asked for the reason. The child told her that her guru refused to teach her dance and that’s why she was crying. The old lady took pity on her and told her that her daughter was a qualified dancer and she would ask her to teach her from next day onwards. The little girl went home happy and started her classes under her new teacher.
At the age of 11, she joined Kalamandalam, famous for Kathakali and the place where all art forms are taught in its authentic form. She remembers, SreeVallatholNarayanaMenon, the great poet and founder of Kalamadalamwas in the selection board. She performed Kaliyamardanambefore him and he admired her talent and gave her admission. It was a turning point in her life. It was the training in different dance forms, under great gurus that made her a good performer. “It was a ‘gurukulam’ where the teachers treated their disciples with care and love. It is the blessings of the gurus that make each dancer comes out of the institution a great performer,” she said closing her eyes half remembering them with great reverence. Then there were no degrees or diplomas. One completes the course. It may run through five years. That was it ,”she said.
“After my course I started teaching students and also performing. I have taught thousands of student,” she said pointing to the dance room on the first floor. She learnt Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kathakali and Kuchipudi. Later, she moved to Madras to learn more. She studied under the greats, MuthuswamiPlillai, ChitraVisweswaran, Adayar K Lakshmanan and VempattiChinnaSathyam. Madras was wonderful, where she could associate with many masters. There were lots of performances. She visited many foreign countries and performed solo and in a group before different nationalities to full applause. She had performed allover India.
It was her husband, the award winning film maker the late Pavithran who encouraged her to introduce gazals in Mohiniyattam. It was a great success as the slow and graceful body movements suited well with Gazals. She said she set Mohiniyattam steps for acclaimed play back singer Hariharan’s famous gazal starting, Jab rat kitanhai… “It was a great success. The audience accepted itwholeheartedly,” she said.
She has also choreographed many poems. She says , “it is when we discover something new by ourselves then only there will be value for all our learning. We should start think out of the box about new ways to express our ability I always tell my students to compose their own version of dance after learning the basic lessons. I always inspire them to discover and think about new ideas.
All will have to go through many struggles to achieve something in life. If you are determined and ready to work hard, you will surely win the race. In my whole career I have not asked for anything. All recognitions came through my way as a natural outcome of my efforts. That gives me more happiness”.
“More than all awards and recognition I am happier because of the opportunities that I got to showcase my talents. I feel proud when I see my name along with some of the legends in this field, she said.
She is also very happy to speak about budding stars in the dance field, “Today I can see many talented students from Kerala performing different styles of dance. She has also said that efforts to present Mohiniyattam in new ways without losing its credentials should be encouraged. Then only the greatness of the art form will reach across the world. The only area where I feel unhappy is the way in which performers are treated differently when it comes to remuneration. Everybody, if he or she perform well, should be treated well,” she concluded.