A disadvantage most non-resident Keralite artistes face, is a lack of exposure in their home state. Although they have rendered yeomen services in popularising our art forms among other regions for many years, when these ‘cultural ambassadors’ return home, they fade from the arc lights. A living example of this predicament is septuagenarian Kalamandalam Hymavathy, one of the first four disciples of Thottassery Chinnammu Amma, whose kalari in 1950 laid the foundation for the widely accepted ‘Kalamandalam Sailee’ of Mohiniyattam. But Hymavathy is not a disgruntled artiste. Though mainly confined to her home in Lakkidi, after spending more than four decades outside Kerala, she is still engaged in giving finishing touches to a book on the terpsichorean art that could be beneficial to the dance fraternity.
Excerpts from an interview:
Providential entry to Kalamandalam
I was born in Malaysia. I came to India and studied at a high school at Thiruvallwamala. My school days were memorable as I participated in various dance activities. I belong to Kizhakke Pampady, a village near Ottapalam. In those days, even vernacular newspapers were not available there. One day, visiting relatives had an English newspaper with them. It carried an advertisement inviting applications from girls to join a dance class that Kalamandalam proposed to begin. My father responded to it.
The Nila Campus on the banks of the Bharathapuzha looked extremely salubrious. There were many girls of my age. We were asked to form a semi-circle. A senior artiste, presumably a Kathakali teacher, came to each one of us and took a close look at our face. A young girl of 13 like me naturally turned bashful and tried to conceal my shyness with a laboured smile. Immediately, I was asked to step out. Later I learnt that this long exercise of ‘close encounter’ was a personality test. Seven of us were selected. We were advised to return for the final selection after three months. This was an in-house selection for which we had to stay in Kalamandalam with our guru Chinnammu Amma. Under her instructions we were made to do many steps to varied rhythms for four days. Finally four of us were selected and I was one among them. I still remember the others: Clara, Bhanumathy and Vidya Vinodini.
Days in Kalamandalam
We were trained both in Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam. Chinnammu Amma taught us Cholkettu, Chenchurutty (Jathi Swaram), Swati Varnam ‘Sami ninne’ in Yadukulakamboji and so on. For Bharatanatyam, we had Krishnankutty Warrier who had trained under Chokkalingam Pillai. Later Guru Rajaratnam Pillai also joined. The course was completed in three years. I wanted to learn Kathakali as well. The following year, I was allowed to learn most of the female roles in Kathakali but on the condition that I helped Chinnammu Amma teach. Ramankutty Aasan and Padmanabhan Aasan were my Kathakali gurus. I was lucky to be included in the Kalamandalam tour of Malaysia and also of different parts of India. Responding to the invitation from Kumaran of Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Perur, I taught dance there. During this period, I learnt Carnatic music. My ‘Poothana Moksham’ was much sought-after and invitations for performances poured in.
Ms. Kaul, principal of Birla Balika Vidyapeeth, Pilani, Rajasthan, chanced upon one of my performances at Thiruvallwamala. She invited me to join the faculty of dance in that renowned residential girls’ school. Although, my family was reluctant, my determination overcame all hurdles, and my father took me there in 1958. Dance was part of the school’s curriculum up to standard 10. They wanted me to introduce the South Indian dances of Mohiniyattam, Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. The three decade-stint there gave me immense opportunities to teach, perform and choreograph. Apart from Malayalam compositions, I created dance-dramas based on the works of Mythili Sharan Gupt, Sampoornanand, Surdas, Tulsidas and so on which were highly appreciated. A good number of them fetched prizes for my students in all-India competitions. I exploited the rich library in the Birla Institute to the hilt. Rare books on Natyasastra inspired me to write the book Mudra Sastra that is yet to be completed.
Notwithstanding the persuasion by the management to continue, I left the institution at the age of 60. On their request, I recommended a Kalamandalam-trained teacher who is presently carrying on the work I had started. I feel dance should be included in the curriculum of our schools so that students graduating from Kalamandalam get enough opportunities for employment. May be I have missed awards from Kerala thanks to the prolonged stay outside; but I am really happy that many of my students in the north have graduated into performers and teachers of South Indian dances.