Nedumpilly Rammohan has carved out a his niche as a Kathakali singer who contributes much to enhance the performance of the actors on stage. One of the most in-demand demanded singers on the Kathakali circuit, he has performed widely across India and abroad with doyens of the art form. A teacher of Mathematics at T.S.N.M High School at Kundoorkunnu in Palakkad , he balances both his pursuits as a teacher and singer without compromising on either of his passions. He is also pursuing a Ph.D. from with Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University on conglomeration of raga and rasa in Kathakali with special reference to Irayimman Thampi’s stories (‘Keechakavadham’, ‘Uttaraswayamvaram’ and ‘Dakshayagam’). Excerpts from an interview with the soft-spoken Rammohan:

Atmosphere of art

Music and Kathakali were a constant in my home. My father, Nedumpilly Narayanan Namboodiri, was a Kathakali singer. He was the disciple of Kalamandalam Neelakantan Nambeesan. He was also a school teacher and priest at a nearby temple. My father’s elder brother Krishnan Namboodiri had conducted Kathakali workshops and demonstrations in European countries even before Kathakali attained worldwide popularity. Some foreigners used to be with him at my home to learn Kathakali. I started learning Carnatic music from my elder brother Krishnamohan at the age of five. He gave me a strong foundation. A year later I started taking lessons in Kathakali ‘vesham’ from Kalamandalam Soman and it continued for 10 years. When I was 10, I had my debut as an actor on the Kathakali stage. Two years later, I started learning Kathakali music from Kalamandalam Sreekumar. Singing with veterans such as Madambi Subrahmanian Namboodiri and Palanad Divakaran helped me a lot to imbibe the exact culture of the tradition.

With legends

My father and guru would take me to Kathakali performances to enact minor characters so that I could get an experience of the stage. It was a great opportunity to watch the performances of maestros such as Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair and Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair. I could also perform with them. I was fortunate to get the chance to sing for Ramankutty Nair Asan’s Keechakan. Even when singing padams such as ‘Harinakshi…’, although I was afraid, his precise mudras and rhythmic exactitude helped me a lot. There was no confusion in repetition of lines. I have also performed with greats such as Kalamandalam Gopi, Sadanam Krishnankutty and Kalamandalam Vasu Pisharody.

Pursuing Carnatic music

When I started learning Kathakali, my concentration deviated from Carnatic music. However, in my college days I again took up Carnatic music seriously under the guidance of K.M. Krishnan Namboodiri. After completing my graduation and B.Ed, I joined School of Drama and Fine Arts in Thrissur for my post-graduation in Carnatic music. Kathakali music helped me in ragaalapana. The mode of reckoning talas is very different in Kathakali when compared to Carnatic music. But somehow, I found it easy to sing ragam tanam pallavi in complicated tala patterns.

School of Drama and Fine Arts

I was depressed when I did not get an opportunity to take up a course at Kalamandalam. It was then that I came to know about a postgraduate course in School of Drama. I was admitted after an aptitude test. Jalaja Varma, the then head of the department, and lecturers such as M.S. Parameswaran, Guruvayur Manikandan and Arackel Nandakumar motivated me and I passed out with a first rank.

Jugalbandhis and Kathakali padam

Kathakali padam concerts began at the time of Kalamandalam Neelakantan Nambeesan. It was when ‘Nalacharitham’ became popular. At that time, all padams from a single play were included in a concert. Later, Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri, Venmani Haridas and Kalamandalam Hyderali started including padams from different stories. Going by my experience, concerts comprising padams from a single story is best appreciated by connoisseurs, while lay persons prefer a mixed fare. In jugalbandhis, the complete aesthetic characteristics of both the genres – Kathakali and Carnatic – cannot be brought out. Some of my memorable jugalbandhis were with Trichi Ganesan, Ranganatha Sarma and Mavelikkara P. Subrahmaniam. One with Sampradaya bhajan exponent Chenkottai Hariharasubrahmaniam lasted for five hours in which he incorporated bhajans also.

As a teacher

I have a few students who approach Kathakali music with seriousness. I do not encourage those who approach me for learning to participate in competitions or to stage an arangettam. It is a pity that their parents do not have any respect and integrity towards this art form.