Kerala Kalamandalam is the art and cultural university of Kerala. This is the hidden cultural epitome one shouldn’t miss if you are seeking for Kerala’s untouched tradition.
As I entered the Kerala Kalamandalam, a forgotten culture of Kerala unfolded before me. Traditional songs and the sound of Chenda(an instrument used in Kerala) reached me from distant classrooms built in the traditional style. Some students were walking on the campus: girls draped in three fourth length saree(traditional dress for women) with hair platted on one side and boys wearing mundu(traditional dress for men) with golden border. I could feel the serene and peaceful ambience of the campus built on the shores of river Nila(Bharathapuzha).
We felt little sheepish to enter the classes even though visitors are allowed to enter and see the classes happening without disturbing the teachers and students. So we walked on the verandas and peeped through the windows where the classes were going on and later joined a group of tourists who were getting inside the classes. There were children from the age of 13 up to students who were doing masters and PhD in arts. It was inspiring to see children of such tender age dedicating their life to arts and getting involved in physical training throughout the day.
It was surprising to me that, they still followed traditional Gurukula system of education where teachers and students living under the same roof sharing a close bonding. Classes were divided based on the student’s experience and not of their age. So I could see students of the different age group in primary classes.
Kerala Kalamandalam was found by the renowned poet Vallathol Narayana Menon in the year 1930 on his passion for classical arts and with an intention to preserve the deteriorating classical art forms like Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Thullal, Kutiyattam and Panchavadyam.Panchavadyam(classical instruments) classes were going on in the beginning classrooms, and in the midsection, we came across Chenda and primary classes of Kathakali, Kudiyattam and Thullal.
After visiting all the classical art forms, we headed to the beautiful Koothamabalm to see the dance classes happening over there. Koothamabalam is a closed hall for staging arts built according to the science of Sage Bharata’s Natyasastra(Indian Dramaturgy).The main attraction of Kerala Kalamandalam is the Koothambalam, which can only be found in Kerala. For a classical artist, this Koothambalam is the temple of arts and getting a chance to perform on this stage is believed to be divine. Eminent dancers and artists of different classical art forms from all over India have performed on this Koothambalam.
I felt a sacred aura enclosing me as I entered the Koothambalam. The tall slanting roofs were built according to the Thatchu Shastra(construction style). There was a stage in the centre which was curtained and an audience seating area just below it. Walls were made of wood and pillars made of granites, sculptured with dance poses from the Natyasastra. Dance classes were happening on different corners of the Koothambalam.
I observed the dancers for some time and I could see their passion for dance. Different expressions were flashing on their face as their guru’s(teacher) voice echoed in the background. Footsteps changed according to the beats of the song.
Nila Old Campus:
After seeing the Koothambalam we went to the old campus of Kerala Kalamandalam which is some few kilometres away. Old campus was for elder students who were doing masters and PhD in arts. Since it was Saturday there were only 2 classes happening in the old campus.One was a Kutiyattam class where a group of girls were practising and their Guru was helping them out with their hand movement.
And the next one was a Kathakali class, with a single student was practising. The years of practice was evident on the student as he was performing. The sharp face expressions and the eye movement along with the striking body movement even without their costumes and makeup would give goosebumps to anyone. I wished I could see this performance on stage in all its might. It was a visual treat for my eyes.
When I came out I realized how different was the world inside the campus. I couldn’t see either teacher or student using the mobile phone. They were people who found their happiness in art. Artform was a meditation for them where they found their peace and joy. It felt like a folklore- once upon a time, there was a Gurukula for arts on the banks of a river Nila, where teachers and students lived together in harmony dedicating their life to arts.
Famous for: Art, culture, Kathakali and traditional theatre
Location: Cheruthuruthy, Thrissur, Kerala
Entrance fee: For guided tours, it costs Rs.1000 for Indians and $20 for foreigners.
Visiting time: 09:30- 13:00
Before heading to Kerala Kalamandalam, try reading their cultural tourism page to get a better understanding of the place and for more clarifications.
How to reach Kerala Kalamandalam:
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport(82kms)
Nearest railway station: Kerala Kalamandalam is well connected by train. Shornur railway station is the nearest railway station which is 4.8 km from the campus.
Bus services: There are frequent bus services available to Kalamanadalam from Thrissur bus stand(53km), which is one of the nearest city bus stands.
Other means of transport: Online and call taxis are available from Thrissur to Kalamandalam.
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