Kerala Kalamandalam, a premiere arts institution of the State founded by poetic genius Vallathol Narayana Menon as far back as 1930 and recognised as a Deemed University for Art and Culture in 2006, is set to cross another milestone with the award of its maiden doctoral degree.
Vini A., part of the university’s first batch of nearly 40 research scholars registered in 2007, will have her open defence — one of the requirements of the degree — later this month after which she will go down in history as the holder of the institution’s first PhD.
Notably, Vini’s work is on the seminal role played by Kalamandalam in the State’s cultural renaissance.
An avid researcher with an eye for inconspicuous details, Vini has to her credit several articles on art forms, the most noted being a revelatory write-up on the secular murals of Mattancherry Palace on Kerala’s performing arts. While a compilation of her articles is to be soon brought out by the National Book Stall, a pithy volume on the history of the Vazhenkada Kunju Nair Trust exploring its intervention in the social and cultural life of Cherpulassery, Karalmanna, Vazhenkada and Vellinezhi, will be released in December.
“The book on the trust examines how it has made Kathakali delectable to newer generations. Vazhenkada Kunju Nair was a stalwart who prepared a well-organised syllabus for Kathakali in 1962 which is still being followed,” says Vini.
Chathanath Achuthan Unny, under whose guidance she completed her PhD, says the dissertation, submitted in 2011, is significant in that it sheds light on the influences on Kerala’s cultural renaissance and shows how Kalamandalam, being a centre of excellence for classical art forms, stood up to the cultural challenges of the era.
“While a tome on the history of Kerala Kalamandalam written by Sumangala already exists, Vini’s work is far more comprehensive and insightful. It contains so much more relevant data dug out from records available at Benares Hindu University and Santiniketan,” he says.
For Vini, beginning her research on a blank slate helped her retain the zeal. “Married soon after my pre-degree, I did my degree and PG through distance education. After obtaining a degree in education, I joined Kalamandalam, but was absolutely in the dark about the topic in hand. In hindsight, that worked to my advantage as every turn till the end excited me,” she says.
Vini currently works at the documentation section of Kalamandalam’s archives.