In Nirmala Paniker’s Lila presented by well trained charming Kapila. I could finally savor really communicative and touching abhinaya beautifully stylized and apt for mohiniyattam. There were a wide range of emotions used not only the usual women beautifully suppress their emotions style.
At the end lila leaves one with a very touching image that of a young woman who faces the unknown future but with strong confidence in herself. Nirmala panikar’s many years of long research into the roots and techniques of Mohiniyattam now bears fruit lila opens a long closed Mohiniyattam.
Familiar with the rich heritage of Kerala’s art forms at a young age, Nirmala began to look for a connection between Mohiniyattam, Nangiar Koothu and Thiruvathirakalli all indigenous forms featuring female artistes. This venture led her to great gurus like Bhanu Asan of Thiruvananthapuram from whom she learned Thiruvathirakali and allied forms and to the illustrious Ammanur Madhava Chakyar who enlightened her on the various aspects of abhinaya in koodiyattom and Nangiar Koothu. The ensuing research led her to fill in many gaps in the Mohiniyattom repertoire and to rewrite the forgotten chapters of technique.
One could say that her most important contribution lines in revitalizing the desi or regional aspect of the techniques and reviving the netrabhinaya (expression of the eyes) and Hasthabhinaya expression by hands or Mudras) traditions of Kerala which at one time had been all but lost.
Translated it means, “Life comes from the mind, is sustained by the mind arid goes back into the mind’.
But show me a dance form which can give you a visual depiction of the ‘mind.’ Indian classical dance does that and much more. It has a fully developed, gestural language, with an intricate alphabet, which can show you even the nuances of the mind, the ‘chitta’. It can create vivid pictures of anxiety, desire, thought, remembrance, nostalgia and a host of other micro activities that the mind indulges in, without pause throughout human life. But, of course, the catch is that you need to know how to decipher this language!.
So, what if you are not actually in a theatre, watching a classical dance form such as Bharat Natyam, Kathakali, Mohinlyattam et al and would still like to know how this language can be ‘read’? Is it necessary to be a dance expert or a dancer yourself to be able to break this very esoteric code and access the language which can open magic casements of the imagination?
Until now, yes. But now expert help is available, even as you sit in an armchair and en it you don’t know Sanskrit, the language in which the accompanying, ancient text is offered. When you go through Nirmala Panikar’s new book (Hand Gestures Hasthaiakshanadeepika in Mohiniyattam’), a painstakingly compiled compendium of Unique pictographs, Sanskrit shlokas and their English and Malayalam translations, all aimed at making the lay person understand the language of classical dance, you realize the truth of Bhrikurvalli’s aphorism about the ‘mind’.
even as we trace the source of movement, now to the nabhi, now to the spine, to the upper torso and yet again to the lower torso, to the feet or the hands, we forget that all of these organs are mere puppets working at the behest of that one amazing computer the human mind. And it is this mind whose evidence you see when basing her work on Kerala’s famous styles. Mohiniyattam and Nangiarkoothu the feminine part of Kutiyattam nirmala syncretises her own dance related experiences with textual research the Hasthalakshanadeepika the ancient Sanskrit text on dance combines it with a specially created pictographical notation system and finally the modern art of photography to share with the lay armchair reader all that she has observed perceived and created over an entire lifetime.
The Pictographs that Nirmala uses were first developed by husband G. Venu well known Kutiyattam dancer scholar way back in the mid seventies. He created if for an encyclopedia on Kathakali that he was working on. Compressing the incredibly flowing stream of dance that any Indian classical dance form depicts engaging each limb and each muscle of that limb the face the eyes, in short each cell of the human body then integrating them with rhythm and expression would appear on the face of it to be an impossible task. But Venu achieved it by devising not just diagrams to represent the basic 24 gestures of Kathakali signages that depicted the flow from one basic mudra to say five more which take the idea forward but also showing through over a thousand diagrams both the frontal view of each mudra as well as the profile.
Nirmala has taken that work forward and created her own language of mudras whereby the basic unites of the diagrams in each pictograph can be combined in a set of four or five pictures and diagrams to show how the movement begins develops and finally comes to a climax. In correlating the pictographs to especially modeled pictures of each pose and stand by dancers from her institute in lrinjalakuda, Kerala, she has taken care to also incorporate the training that she has received over twenty years from masters like Kalyanikutti Amman, Kalamandalam Satyabhama and guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar.
As the book goes out into the wide world and begins its journey to the mind of countless readers I wish it the success it deserves.
The unknown links that existed between the performing art forms which were practiced by women in a Kerala of the distant past had always intrigued Nirmala Panikar.
As a reputed scholar and teacher of some of Kerala’s most treasured ancient women’s performing art forms including Mohiniyattam, Nangiarkoothu and Thiruvathirakkali, Ms. Paniker has been striving hard to discover these ‘missing links,’ and enrich the art forms by rediscovering their lost glories.
Ms. Paniker’s association with the classical and folk performing arts of Kerala can be traced back to her childhood, spent in Piravom, her native place, where she grew up soaking in the visual and rhythmic splendors of Kathakali, Kalarippayattu, Mudiyettu, Gandharvanpattu, Kalamezhuthupattu and a myriad of other performances.
With her inquisitive mind refusing to be content with the conventional academic education received as a post-diploma student of Dance at the R.L.V.College, Tripunithura, Ms. Paniker set out on her own personal track of enquiry into Kerala’s classical past, into the history of the danseuses of this land. The early Seventies were a perfect time for the beginnings of such an enquiry. Heated debates on the history and origins of Mohiniyattam were taking place at that time among the performers, scholars and connoisseurs. There was one argument that Mohiniyattam had a perfectly local history drawing upon the various folk performances indigenous to Kerala like Ammanattam, Panthattam, Oonjalattam, Penkoothu (or ‘Pavaikoothu,’ in Tamil, which means ‘performance by women’) and, of course, Thiruvathirakkali. Another contention ran counter to this, claiming that Mohiniyattam was a direct descendant of the traditional Devadasi dance from Tamil Nadu.
Ms. Paniker, who heard of Nangiarkoothu for the first time somewhere in the early Seventies, obtained a meeting with the late Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar in 1977 at Ernakulam. Answering her queries, the great master directed her to a Nambiar Madhom in Kottayam, where she met two Nangiar-s who conducted the ritualistic performance of Nangiarkoothu at the Kumaranalloor Bhagavathi Temple.
To cut a long story short, the wonder she felt while meeting these two Nangiarammas grew into a life-long engagement with Nangiarkoothu and attempts to trace its links with the lasya dance forms of Kerala including Mohiniyattam and Thiruvathirakkali. After moving to Irinjalakuda following the setting up of Natanakairali by G.Venu, her life partner and scholar/performer of Kutiyattam, Ms. Paniker was closely associated with the functioning of the Ammannur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam and the revival of Nangiarkoothu that happened under the guidance of Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar.
She is the disciple of some of the great guru-s of Kerala, including Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutti Amma, Kalamandalam Sathyabhama and Kalakshethra Vilasisni. She also learnt Thiruvathirakkali from some traditional guru-s like Bhanu Asan of Thiruvananthapuram, Lakshmikutty Amma of Alappuzha and Savithri Brahmamiyamma of Irinjalakida Ms. Paniker has also received training in Kathak and Odissi under B.B. Acharya at Acharya Kalamandir Jamshedpur.
From 1974 till 2000 She had been working as head of the dance department at the Lawrence School Lovedale. She has participated in Numerous national and international workshops seminars, performances and lecture demonstrations in India and abroad including in London, Zurich, Japan, Mozambique, Korea, Maxico, France Netherlands and Sweden. From 2000 she has been working full time as Director of Natanakasiki a research centre for dance and theatre traditions of the women of Kerala and a part of Natanakairali.
The resent of her efforts are two earlier books Mohiniyattam the Lasya Dance and Nangiar Koothu the classical Dance theatre of Nangiar-s as well as the present volume.
But Ms. Panikar’s Biggest contribution till date to Mohiniyattam is the rejuvenation of its almost forgotten desi aspects like Poli, Easal, Kurathy and Chandanam. Her choreographies include Leela as Mohiniyattam. The Krishnan Kutty Smaraka Award also fro contributions towards Mohiniyattam Came in 2002.
The present work Hand gestures of Hasthalaskhanadeepika in Mohiniyattam is the result of Ms. Paniker’s intensive research work of the past 30 years. Basically a lexicon of the hasthamudra-s used in Mohiniyattam drawing upon the treatise Hasthalakshanadeepika this book presents the 24 fundamental Mudras as well as various words and expressions articulated with the help of them in a meticulous Notation system.
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