Dance

Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum celebrates Indian dance forms and its tradition

Guru Gopinath Dance Museum in Thiruvananthapuram

Guru Gopinath Dance Museum in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum in Thiruvananthapuram is a treasure trove of information on classical dance forms of India and traces their history and evolution

India has its dedicated museums for calico, kite, dolls, rail, aeronautics, science and technology, apart from conventional museums that are a storehouse of exhibits and information on the evolution of man, heritage, and civilisations. But, a dance museum tucked away in the suburbs of Thiruvananthapuram springs many surprises, and makes one proud. The vision and planning that have gone into the institution is evident from the moment one sets foot on the two-acre campus of the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum.

Exquisitely designed, this impressive edifice, designed by Centre of Science and Technology For Rural Development (COSTFORD), is possibly the best tribute that can be paid to Kathakali maestro Guru Gopinath who chose to evolve a new dance form, Kerala Natanam, which would appeal to a larger cross section of audiences.

In a nutshell

A walk through the 10 galleries gives a comprehensive look at various dance forms within the country, classical, tribal and folk. The first stop is the wax museum, which, apart from models of greats like Mani Madhava Chakyar (Koodiyattam), Balasaraswati, P.K. Kalan, the Gadhika practitioner, Kelucharan Mahapatra, and Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, has supporting details on each dancer and his style.

Inside view of the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum in Thiruvananthapuram

Inside view of the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

Sculpted replicas of dance poses from temples, the connect between patron-dynasties and dance forms, costume and make-up for the dances have dedicated spaces.

Inside view of the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum in Thiruvananthapuram

Inside view of the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

Kerala has a significant number of worship-linked performances, and all of these – Mudiyettu, Theyyam, Padayani, and Thirayattam, to name a few – are represented here. Chau, Gotipua, Manipuri, Kuchipudi and Bhangra featured here are indicative of how inclusive is the display.

Statue of Mohanjandaro Dancing Girl at the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum

Statue of Mohanjandaro Dancing Girl at the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

Bridging the time span and indicating the antiquity of dance in India is the well-thought-out inclusion of models of the famed pre-historic Harappa ‘Dancing girl’ and the Didarganj Yakshi.

Of a glorious past

The Guru Gopinath Gallery is a rewind to a glorious career in dance. Larger-than-life portraits of the navarasas by the Guru and kireedams that he made for roles he essayed take one through the eventful and rewarding career. A similar collection of danseuse Bhavani Chellappan (a disciple of the Guru), also finds a place in this gallery.

Model of Muchilottu Bhagavathy Theyyam at the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum

Model of Muchilottu Bhagavathy Theyyam at the Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

An auditorium, a research library (Thankamani Memorial Digital Library), and interactive kiosks in each category have ensured that the Museum is an integrated user-friendly space.

“Digitisation is a high priority of the Museum, to ensure access to users. Efforts are on to make a gallery on dances from other nations a reality,” says K. C. Vikraman, vice-chairman of Guru Gopinath Natanagramam, established in 1994.

Exhibits at Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum

Exhibits at Guru Gopinath National Dance Museum   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

A clear understanding of the need to engage with diverse audiences and the influence of this cultural space are evident in the activities that the Natanagramam, which administers the Dance Museum, is engaged in. Kalaris to train dancers in Kerala Natanam and other classical dances, and the amphitheatre on the campus make the whole more than the sum of its parts. “Training in musical instruments is also imparted here. Regular workshops, international seminars and the Guru Gopinath Puraskaram are fixtures in calendar of activities,” says D. Sudarsanan, secretary of the Natanagramam where 380 students are training in dance and music, keeping alive a tradition.

Guru Gopinath’s legacy

On his return to Kerala after a glorious career in dance, Guru Gopinath established the Vishwa Kala Kendram, initially in Ernakulam (1963) and later re-located it to Thiruvananthapuram. Together with his wife, Kalamandalam Thankamani, the institution imparted training in dance. Kerala Natanam was a dance form that Guru Gopinath conceptualised after his association with danseuse Ragini Devi, who chose him as a dancing partner, while he was (basically trained in the thekkan chitta) specialising in Kathakali at Kalamandalam.

Guru Gopinath

Guru Gopinath   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The seed idea of a dance form that would connect with the people unlike a highly stylised classical form such as Kathakali was planted by Ragini Devi. Rooted in his classical base, he gave shape to Kerala Natanam that used padams in the Carnatic style, introduced costumes quite distinct from Kathakali veshams, which made it easier for the viewer to recognise the character.

Experimenting with the dance form

According to Vinodini Sasimohan, daughter of Guru Gopinath, he drew on Ravi Varma’s subjects and Indian sculpture to design his character’s costumes. “As for themes, he choreographed pieces on Chandalabhikshuki, Yesunathavijayam, Cheetayum Tamburatti and socially relevant subjects. Stage lighting moved away from the traditional vilakku to conventional lighting, again the goal was to reach a larger viewership. A lot of grace was added to the dance by my mother, Kalamandalam Thankamani, a Mohiniyattam dancer. After my father’s demise while sorting his papers we came across a diary jotting that mentioned about the need for a dance museum, which would be a veritable storehouse of information on dances from the world over. That was the beginning,” says Vinodini.

Venu G., the Koodiyattam exponent, who was his student, also confirmed that Guruji had shared such an idea with him. His words instilled the necessary impetus to take the initiative forward with funds received initially from the Central government and the State later.

“From the very early stage the Museum project has had eminent conservationist M.V. Nair as adviser, so also S. Hemachandran, archaeologist. Land that belonged to the Vishwa Kalakendram was handed over to the state government to execute the dream project of a national dance museum. A work in progress, the space is envisaged as a venue that will walk a visitor through the evolution of dance forms, national and global, and also provide research facilities,” adds Vinodini.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 2:43:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/guru-gopinath-national-dance-museum-celebrates-indian-dance-forms-and-its-history/article20685416.ece

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