RLV Ramakrishnan’s love for Mohiniyattam

Not many men learn Mohiniyattam, RLV Ramakrishnan is one of the few who do

The question is inevitable; RLV Ramakrishnan’s answer suggests that he expects it now. Why Mohiniyattam?

The dance form gets its name from Mohini — the female, enchantress form of Vishnu — and, conventionally, practitioners are women. Ramakrishnan is one of the few male dancers who practise it. He says, “Odissi has lasya — the graceful and feminine aspectto a much greater degree than even Mohiniyattam, and Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra is one of the greatest practitioners of the form. ”

In a first for the event, Ramakrishnan performed at the Nishagandhi Dance Festival, Thiruvananthapuram, in January this year. The response was appreciative and therefore, encouraging, he says. “They don’t expect to see a man doing Mohiniyattam and they liked what they saw.” The dancer, who has been performing since 1998, says it is easier to get venues to perform now, perhaps due to his academic qualification in dance — he has a doctorate in Mohiniyattam. “Sometimes it is a struggle for recognition. Younger dancers don’t get a stage while established dancers do. In such a time I get my share,” he says, adding “it is better now.” When he started it was a mindset — that Mohiniyattam is not for women — he was challenging. “There were gurus who disagreed and then there were those who didn’t see a problem and taught me.”

Ramakrishnan performed parts of the Ramayana with Kochi-based dancer Soumya Satish. He essayed the male characters — he believes men should present male characters as feminine traits of female dancers interfere when they present masculine characters. “Natyashastra does not proscribe Mohiniyattam for men. Over the years the male perspective got sidelined because women sustained the form,” says the 43 year-old guest lecturer at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. Among his students are men, according to him there is a change in attitude toward pursuing Mohiniyattam.

Dance Drama
  • Saumya Satish first performed with Kalamandalam Ramakrishnan in December 2019 as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of her dance school, Bharata Kala Mandiram (Elamakkara). ‘Bharatham Mohanam’ was choreographed by Ramakrishnan. Since then Saumya and Ramakrishnan have performed together in two other programmes.
  • A State winner in Mohiniyattam at the School Youth Festival and Kalathilakam, she first saw Ramakrishnan perform a couple of years ago. “I was impressed, but it was another two years until I contacted him. There were a couple of dance pieces that I wanted to learn from him,” she says. The dancers met last July, when Saumya began her lessons. “I asked why not we perform Mohiniyattam together, he had the same idea. And the first peformance was in December.” She states that there should be space for men in Mohiniyattam, as it infuses new ideas and helps growth.

His love of dance led him to quit an undergraduate course in science to join RLV College of Fine Arts , Tripunithura. He completed his post-graduation in Mohiniyattam with a first rank from the Mahatma Gandhi University. The younger brother of the late Kalabhavan Mani, Ramakrishnan has acted in two films — Chalakkudykaran Changathy, Mani’s biography and Theeta Rappai.

Choosing Mohiniyattam was easy, he says, as it is an indigenous art form. “When we have such forms in Kerala, why should I learn some other form from elsewhere?” Ramakrishnan adds that finding teachers was easy: those who did not want to teach refused and those who agreed became his gurus. Ramakrishnan mentions two who are special — RLV Anand, his first dance teacher and Dr. NK Geetha, his research guide. The topic of his doctoral thesis was Aatathinte Aanvazhikal (loosely translated ‘The Path of Men in Dance’).

RLV Ramakrishnan’s love for Mohiniyattam

At RLV College, though Ramakrishnan was the only male student, that did not bother his classmates or teachers. “There are those that are unwilling to accept men and then there are those who do. Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma teacher, a doyenne of the form, was open to men performing Mohiniyattam. Mindsets apart, even Kerala Kalamandalam, a deemed university, does not admit men for the Mohiniyattam course,” he says. The reason for the exclusion harks back to its lasya aspect.

Ramakrishnan refuses to accept the argument, “There are male characters. There is no harm if the masculine element is expressed by men. Also, what of teachers of yore like Ayyappa Panicker who taught Mohiniyattam, during Maharaja Karthika Thirunal of Travancore’s reign? The male nattuvanar - guru/choreographer/vocal percussionist — had an important role in Mohiniyattam. It was to his chollu (rhythmic structure) that the dance was performed and he, sometimes, would perform on the stage till poet Vallathol Narayana Menon’s time. He was instrumental in the revival of the dance form. The practise was discouraged as the perception was that the attention shifted from the performer. So how does the argument stand?” he asks. Vallathol was instrumental in the revival of the dance form in the 1930s.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:26:34 PM |

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