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Enchanting Kerala

KERALA TOURISM NEWSLETTER

ISSUE: 219

NOVEMBER 2011

A talent on a par with male Kathakali actors


Sprouted in the immaculate land of Kerala during the seventeenth century, Kathakali is a stylised version of dance drama distinguished by its resplendent make-up of characters, elaborate costumes and well-defined body movements. The complexity of this art form demands a decade-long assiduous training course for the artistes to attain mastery.

The art of Kathakali for ages has been very much a masculine sphere impermissible to women. Some 50 years ago those impenetrable walls that enclosed this magnificent art form were crushed down by the tantalising steps of a female artiste. Her name was Chavara Parukutty Amma, an ever-inspiring and triumphant figure in the field of Kathakali.

Parukutty Amma danced her way to the stage at a time when the role of womenfolk was confined to the level of audience. It was her father Sankaran Achari who encouraged her into the world of art. Being an ardent connoisseur of art, Sankaran Achari could easily recognise the taste and talent of his child. At school she joined various groups and participated in dance dramas.

As a child Parukutty Amma's performance amazed her teacher so much that he decided to teach her without any fees. At the age of 16, on the request of her father, she started her formal Kathakali classes. Mudavilakad Gopala Paniker was her first guru. She also received training from legends like Poruvazhi Gopala Pillai Asan and Mankulam Vishnu Namboothiri.

Nevertheless people were skeptical whether Parukutty Amma, a woman, could breathe life into much masculine characters like Duryodhana. They thought these emotionally challenging characters were inappropriate for women. But Parukutty Amma stepped out with so much confidence that nothing could keep her away from her goals.

In 1958, she joined the troupe Krishnavilasom Kathakali Yogam in Kollam. In 1960 she got her first break when she performed with the troupe in Delhi. There was no looking back from then on.

In 2003 she started a dance school at Shankaramangalam which she named as Kerala Natya Dhara. She spends six hours tutoring her students every day at her dance school. At present, nearly 350 students are being trained in various performing arts at the school. Recently Parukutty Amma became the first female artiste to have completed 50 years in the field of Kathakali.
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