Kalamandalam Govindan Kutty broadened the horizons of Kathakali and his assiduous efforts popularised it in West Bengal.
It was on a summer's day in July, 1955, that Kalamandalam Govindan Kutty set foot in Calcutta [Kolkata]. His arrival in the city had a great impact on the cultural history of the city and East India too.
Kathakali became an integral part of the dance scenario in West Bengal in a big way after the coming of Govindan Kutty. Prior to this, in Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan, Santidev Ghosh had the fortune of learning Kathakali talas under the tutelage of Kunjukurup in Vallathol's Kerala Kalamandalam for a short while in 1931 and 1932. Santiketan saw more of Kathakali with the visit of Guru Gopinath who displayed the potential of Kathakali by performing a few stories. More exposure to this dance form was made possible when Vallathol had sent Kelu Nayar, an accomplished Kathakali artiste, to Santiniketan on the request of Tagore. It was then left to Sankaran Namboodri to show what a full fledged Kathakali dance drama is like. More experimentation with Kathakali was effected in later times by Krishnan Kutty, Balkrishna Menon and Haridas Nayar.
Performer and researcher
It was, however, Govindan Kutty who satiated the growing interest of dance lovers in West Bengal in this captivating dance drama from Kerala. He not only trained dancers, but was himself a performer with a research oriented creative mind. He has left behind an unmatchable record of performances and contributions to India's cultural heritage.
Born in 1927 in Palakkad district, his love and dedication towards Kathakali saw him pursue the art form with dedication and determination for more than eight decades.
Till 1949, Govindan Kutty was focused on learning the art of Kathakali; later he became its cultural ambassador not only in the length and breadth of India, but also in the world. Having honed his skill as a teacher and a performer in Mrinalini Sarabhai's school at Ahmedabad soon after securing his diploma from Kerala Kalamandalam, and after seeing much of the world with her troupe, he reached Kolkata to take up the post of Principal of Nritya Kairali, an institution run by the Calcutta Malayali Samajam.
He was always called upon to be the hero in all the dance dramas of Rabindranth Tagore. Soon he became an external examiner, and selection committee member of Viswa Bharati University in Kathakali. A few years later he joined Rabindra Bharati University, becoming its reader in later years. He was the nominated member of West Bengal State Music Academy. Accolades and honours followed one after the other.
Quick to acquire a working knowledge of a language, he foresaw the trials and tribulations one is likely to face in pursuing Kathakali, the sahitya of which is in Malayalam. This made him draw up a Kathakali syllabus meant exclusively for non-Malayalis, besides writing ‘Kathakali Ntriyer Rooprekha' in Bengali as well as the prestigious ‘Kathakali the Dance Theatre' in English, published by Asiatic Society in 1999. ‘Miles to Go Before I Sleep' was a fitting documentary on the Guru's life filmed by the Government of West Bengal.
He, with his wife Thankamani Kutty, founded Calcutta Kalamandalam in 1968 for the teaching of Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam and Kathakali. He is the founder secretary of the Calcutta Kathakali Club, which was later renamed as Kathakali Art Centre. This Centre enabled dance lovers to see full-fledged Kathakali programmes in Kolkata.
It was a great honour for this experienced teacher to have a conducted a 10-day workshop and lecture/demonstration at Imphal, Manipur for ‘The Chorus Repertory Theatre' of dramatist Ratan Thiyam.
Along with Chitresh Das Dance Company, Govindan Kutty performed at San Francisco, Maryland, Connecticut. Michael Madhusudan Dutta's epic story ‘Meghnad Badh Kabya' – the slaying of Meghnad in verse, which has seven characters, was choreographed and danced solo by Govindan Kutty.
His zeal for Kathakali took him to J.L.University of Giessen, Germany, as a visiting Kathakali professor at its Theatre Department as well as to Tribhuvan University, Nepal.
Above all, the octogenarian guru was a good human being, a father figure to all aspiring dancers, young and old. A son of the soil, he delved into the treasure of Kerala to bring it untold glory. He left his mortal body on January 13, 2007, and he donated his body to Calcutta Medical College as a last act of goodness.