A Day with the Masters: Kalamandalam School in Kerala

28th March 2014

We had the opportunity to visit Kalamandalam dance school in Kerala.  The school teaches over 20 different disciplines, including several types of dance, theatre, makeup, drumming, and singing.   There are 60 teachers and over 200 students in those 20 disciplines, and several of the current teachers were students themselves.   The school itself is funded by the state government in an attempt to preserve local traditional arts.  Several of them died out before they could be saved, as many artforms were practised only by specific families in certain geographical areas and were not passed on when family members lost interest or died out.

Students take regular school courses in addition to lesson in their given discipline, usually attending for six years.  It takes 8 to earn and undergraduate degree, and several more for a PhD.   The program is residential, with students living together nearby in a dorm-like Spartan atmosphere.  Classes can start as early as 4 in the morning in order to fit in the necessary hours to practice their discipline, attend standard classes like math, and complete their homework.

In another time period, the arts primarily belonged to the upper class, meaning that only those from certain castes could participate.  They also were only performed in certain areas at certain times, and did not tend to be open to the general public.  This modern, public revival and preservation of the arts has democratized this aspect of culture, allowing all Kerala people (as well as foreigners and other Indians) to participate as well as view these arts forms.  Several of these types of performance are  classified as part of the World Heritage by UNESCO.   It’s great to see the government taking an active role in preserving culture and combatting yet another manifestation of the caste system.

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