Kalamandalam – A Cradle of the Classical Performing Arts in Kerala.

7th April 2014

It seldom happens that you step inside the confines of a place you have never been to before and feel a sense of belonging almost instantly. The space, though sometimes vast and open, seems to gently hold your hands and pull you in. I felt an immediate sense of déjà vu as I took my first steps inside the campus of Kalamandalam. The architecture from an age gone by, sounds echoing through the air and tall trees creating complex patterns of shadow and light on the ground; this place had an impact like none other I had felt during my visits to Kerala.

A school of the classical performing arts, with more than eight decades of rich history, Kalamandalam is located in the Cheruthuruthy village of Thrissur district in Kerala. Initiated in 1930 by the legendary poet Vallathol Narayana Menon with the aim of reviving the then dying art and dance forms of Kerala, the institution has over the years become a cultural landmark on the Indian map.

Offering training to students in residence by the best in the field in Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Ottam Thullal and other dance forms, many acclaimed artists have begun their exemplary careers after passing through the doors of this school. Masters like Kalamandalam Gopi, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon, Guru Gopinath and many others have either had close associations or are alumni of this highly acclaimed school. The school also offers courses for those who wish to learn the art of playing percussion instruments like the chenda, the maddalam and some others which play an important role in the narrative and musical aspect of the traditional dance forms of Kerala.

During my time at the campus as part of the Kerala Blog Express travel blogging team, it was not difficult to imagine why Kalamandalam had gifted the world so many masters. As part of their ‘A Day with the Masters’ initiative, we were given a quick walk through of what was a typical day at the school. The classes, each holding not more than 5-10 students at a time who were all immersed in the instructions of the gurus, had an old world spiritual feel. The constant attention of the cameras and the movement of the curious visitors didn’t bother the students at all. It was as if the world beyond the classroom didn’t exist to them. The loud but repetitive beats of the chenda and the maddalam seemed to send them into a state of an almost meditative trance that was probably essential to the art.

Walking from one class room to another, being hit by these many beautiful sights and powerful sounds, time had gone into a loop; one that I was particularly enjoying a lot. To experience the Guru-Shishya (teacher-student) tradition first hand and in such a vibrant state, at a campus that adheres to the Gurukul system of teaching, was indeed a privilege. The experience became of greater importance because before then I had only seen these arts performed in modern auditoriums or schools. The ambiance at Kalamandalam was tailor-made to inspire, foster and produce great talent.

But more importantly, the school had managed to instill a sense of interest and awe in the minds of most visitors who, like me, left with a strong desire to return and spend more time here. A trip to Kerala would without a doubt be incomplete if a visit to this hallowed cradle of the traditional art forms of Kerala was not part of the itinerary.

To know about Kalamandalam and for more details about the ‘A Day with the Masters’ initiative, visit –

Kerala Kalamandalam Website

‘A Day with the Masters’ Initiative

The beautiful feet of a student during class.

Expressions and postures play an important role.

A student practices a Kathakali expression.

A senior student practicing Thullal at the school.

The gurus (teachers) are masters themselves and an important part of the school’s success.

Learning to play the Thimila.

A Chenda playing class in progress.

It takes years of hard work and dedication to master the powerful Chenda.

Students break into spontaneous dance moves while walking to their class.

Traditional Gurukul style class.

The architecture only adds to the surreal spiritual feel of the school.

Expressing beautifully, oblivious to the many cameras pointing at her.

Students work for years on clay pots practicing Kathakali makeup before graduating to human faces.

A visiting Kathakali master supervises over two practicing post-graduate students.

The different characters of Kathakali are shown at the museum on the Kalamandalam campus.

The faces of Kathakali with colours representing character types. For eg. Green faces depict noble character.


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