‘Karanas are integral to my choreographies’

Jolly Mathew. Photo: K.K. Najeeb   | Photo Credit: K.K. Najeeb

It was an insatiable urge for dance that transformed Jolly Mathew, a boy born to a traditional Christian family, into an accomplished performer, a revered guru and a across the world and a much renowned choreographer. That all his accomplishments in the field of classical dances were had achieved to be made in the teeth of stiff resistance from the home-front are proof enough of the single-minded devotion with which he has pursued his vocation. classical dance all these years. There must be few dancers with his the Admittedly, few are the dancers with varied academic qualifications, which 42-year-old Jolly at 42, has earned by dint of hard work.

His qualifications include M.A. in Bharatanatyam from Kalai Kaveri College of Fine Arts, Trichy (Bharathidasan University), B.A. in Mohiniyattaom from R.L.V. College of Music and Dance, Thripunithura (Mahatma Gandhi University), M.A. in Political Science from Maharaja's College, Ernakulam, and Prarambhic and Pravesika Certificates in Bharatanatyam from Gandharva Mandal University, Mumbai. and Diploma in Draftsman (Mechanical) from ITI, Kalamassery. Further, he is a final year student of M.A. degree course in Mohiniyattaom in RLV now. Swati Tirunal Trust and Society in Thiruvankulam, near Thripunithura, owned by him, trains more than 500 students in dance and music.

Excerpts from an interview with him…

Irresistible attraction

Born into a pious Jacobite Christian family, I was regular in attending church services. The liturgical music of the church, noted for its vilambita tempo, attracted me. To be a dancer was a dream I cherished. But the strictures at home prevented me from getting trained as a dancer. Finally, I joined Kerala Kalalayam, Thripunithura, without the knowledge of my parents and siblings. Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma moulded the dancer in me. She was not only my guru but also my mentor. I underwent strict training in Bharatanatyam. Swati padams from Mohiniyattam classes nearby enthused me as its slow tempo resonated with the same tempo of the church music. I learnt Mohiniyattam too. Training demanded regular practice and home was not the right place to do it. Yet, I would practise in the courtyard of my home when all were asleep. Once my elder brother found me practicing and there was a huge scene.

Arangettam at 16

Arangettam at the age of 16 was a singular event in my life. I kept my family in the dark. My arangettam was at the Thiruvankulam Siva temple. I was fortunate to have my guru Kalyanikutty Amma to stage me. I wondered how I would be able to acquire the costumes for the programme. Then, I approached my elder sister who was married. She was generous enough to present me with her wedding sari for this purpose! Moreover, the audience's response to my performances emboldened me to delve deep into dance and I never had to look back.

In pursuit of academics

I did my pre-degree course from Sanskrit College, Thripunithura. Studying Sanskrit was a blessing in disguise. My parents wanted me to get a government job and in accordance with their wishes, I passed a diploma course in draughtsmanship. Although I have been an employee of the Kerala State Electricity Board since 1996, I have been on leave for 10 years from 2004. I am utilising the leave period for my higher studies in dance.

Performances and teaching

I have danced in most of the major temples in Kerala and outside. For the last 25 years I have been regularly performing in the Thiruvankulam temple. The attitude of some temple authorities has been hostile. There have been occasions when I was invited but sent away after the make-up was completed. But such instances were very few. From 1990, I have been conducting regular classes. My wife, Helen Joisten, a French national, joined my institute for studying Mohiniyattam after completing her course in Bharatanatyam from Kalakshetra, Chennai. She is an engineer in the Atomic Energy Department of the French Government and divides her time between Paris and Thiruvankulam.


I choreographed the Biblical story of Job of the Old Testament. Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri had composed the lyrics and scored the music for the Mohiniyattam production. Kalyanikutty Amma's daughter Kala herself did the Nattuvankam for it. It was telecast by Doordarshan in 1998. All other choreographies, including ‘Vazhakkula,' ‘Chandalabikshuki,' ‘Ravanaputhri,' ‘Ramayanam,' ‘Dakshayagam,' ‘Gitopadesam,' ‘Snapakayohannan,' ‘Meghasandesam,' ‘Kumarasambhavam' …. have been in Bharatanatyam. ‘Kurukshetra yuddham' was a mega production with 40 artistes, all my students. Karanas are an integral part of my choreographies and it was a crowning achievement of my career when I could present the 108 karanas with slokas of the Natyasastra at the Kerala Fine Arts Hall, Ernakulam, a few years ago.

Research in Mohiniyattam

I propose to do research in Mohiniyattam at Kalamandalam after completing the post graduate course from R.L.V. I think I am the first male dancer to be awarded the senior fellowship by the Central Ministry of Culture.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 9:35:50 PM |

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