Travelling with my dad and mom, who initiated me into the travel, after so many years was the greatest pleasures of this trip to Kerala. As always, dad was extremely enthusiastic to show us the cultural side of Kerala. The Kathakali lover that he is already, is accentuated by the fact that he gets to go watch wonderful performances all year long. The best part of these performances when you accompany him is his detailed description formed by years of detailed observation and great interest that he takes towards this art form.
This time, his suggestion was to travel to Kerala Kalamandalom, to observe how the indigenous art form is taught. That was the highlight of our trip.
This unique art university nestled in a less sought out region of Thrissur, Kerala is where the unique performing art forms of Kerala are taught. Set up in 1930 by the great poet and visionary, Vallathol Narayana Menon Kalamandalam has progressively added value as a cultural centre on the map of Kerala.
The architectural brilliance at Kalamandalom
Done in traditional Kerala style architecture, the central auditorium style the Koothambalam is a marvel by itself. Traditional music and the rhythmic beating of the Chenda, surrounding the area the entrance to the Koothambalam was like entering a sacred shrine. Built in 1977, it is so soothingly cool inside opposed to the sweaty heat outside. Depicted on the pillars of the Koothambalam are the 109 dance mudras (signs) from ancient literature.
The classrooms encase an open gallery style naturally cooled by the shade of the innumerable surrounding trees and a gentle breeze. Minimally decorated these classrooms are practice grounds for the various batch of students who aim to excel in musical instruments and art forms like Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Mohiniyattam and more.
The Educational style
The art patron that the great poet Vallathol Narayana Menon was; was the key driving force for setting up this unique university. These nearly dying artforms were revived through the setup of the Kerala Kalamandalom, now a deemed university.
The art forms trained here include
- Ootan thullal
- Nagiyar koothu
- Percussion instruments Mizhavu, Chenda, Madhalam
- Voice training for the dance forms
Taught in the traditional Gurukula system where the students discover themselves under the keen guidance of the teacher and living under the same roof. This serves to imbibe the dedication needed to carry forth these art forms. From attuning the body to the physical endurance to culturing the mind to the dedication of the artform Kalamandalom trains it all.
However, The sparse museum at the far end really talks about the hard life needed to push for the survival of these art forms beyond.
How to get there?
Vallathol Nagar is along the banks of river Bharathapuzha. The nearest best location to stay will be Thrissur which is also a cultural hub.
There are flights to the international airport Cochin and Plenty of trains and buses plying to Thrissur from other locations in India. A 45-minute taxi ride brings you to the campus from Thrissur.
Admission and timings
Admissions open from 9.30 am to 1 pm.
Ticketing of rs 20 for Indian nationals am rs 1000($15)for foreign nationals
Photography is permitted.
Weather and etiquette
Kerala is a hot humid state. So, wear loose fitting clothes. However less covered garments for women are typically frowned upon. Carry a wrap or a loose shirt to layer so you can be comfortable.
The months between Jun to Sept are Monsoon months, with heavy rainfall. If travelling during that phase carry rainproof jackets, umbrella or ponchos
The university premises is not really wheelchair accessible, but the path leading to the Koothambalam is easy to manoeuvre
The institute is a learning centre and is advised to refrain from asking the classes or the students to strike poses for photography. Invariably on a teaching day, you will be able to get plenty of candid images.
Travelling with children
Being a hot humid climate, its best to stock on water. Tap water in Kerala is not potable.
The premises is not pram friendly and is uneven. So consider wisely.
Loose-fitting clothes and easy sandals will be best for the weather.
Toilet facilities are available on the campus.
There is also a canteen for Kerala style snacks and tea or a quick meal.
All said and done, people around are extremely helpful and cater to a fair bit of English. So when in doubt, ask and they will surely help.
While travelling to multiple countries, we have experienced the countries showcasing their artform and propagating the cultural significance in multiple avenues. This thrust for the survival of these art forms is now slowly picking up in Kerala at a snail’s pace. I hope we can do a little something to push this forward.
So.when you visit Kerala, stop over for a couple of hours at the Kalamondalam and experience the painstaking effort behind each performance that you enjoy.
Read more of a few unique places you may want to visit in India