The recent controversy over gender disparity in Mohiniyattam has prompted Kerala Kalamandalam to admit boys, marking a historic departure from tradition. However, male dancers face significant challenges in building their Mohiniyattam career. Here, we explore the dance journey of Jolly Mathew, the first male Mohiniyattam dancer to be awarded the Senior Fellowship from the Cultural Ministry.

Now that the controversy surrounding the gender divide in Mohiniyattam is gaining momentum, and RLV Ramakrishnan has garnered support from all quarters, one wonders why his critic Sathyabhama spared Jolly Mathew. Jolly is a renowned performer, choreographer, guru, and director of Swatithirunal Trust in Thiruvankulam near Tripunithura. Incidentally, Jolly, a first-rank holder in MA Mohiniyattam from RLV College, was trained under the revered guru Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, who was also his mentor.

The matriarch of Mohiniyattam was the first to comment on males performing the lasya-rich dance form of Kerala. In a conversation with this writer, years ago, she observed, “There is nothing wrong for boys to perform Mohiniyattam. But if any one of them steps on the stage in the typical costumes worn by girls, he has to be scared away using a broom!”

Dance became a dream for him as a child. But the strictures at home, in a pious Jacobite family, prevented him from pursuing opportunities for training. Finally, he joined Kerala Kalalayam, Tripunithura, without the knowledge of his parents and siblings. Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma molded the dancer in him, and he underwent strict training in Bharatanatyam.

Swati padams from nearby Mohiniyattam classes enthused him, as their slow tempo resonated with the church music of the same tempo in his ears. He learned Mohiniyattam too. However, training demanded regular practice, and home was not the right place for it. Still, he would practice in the courtyard of his home at midnight when all were asleep. Once his elder brother found out, he warned him of dire consequences, including chopping off his legs if he continued practicing at home.

Breaking barriers

His Arangettam at the age of 16 was a singular event in his life. Not only did he keep his family in the dark about it, but it was also held at the Thiruvankulam Siva temple. He was fortunate to have his guru Kalyanikutty Amma to stage him. He was very worried about acquiring costumes for the program until he approached his elder sister, who had already been married off. She generously presented him with her wedding sari for this purpose. His joy knew no bounds. Further, the response from the rasikas to his performances emboldened him to delve deeper into the dances, and he never looked back.

He was recognized as an accomplished choreographer with the Bible story of Job from the Old Testament. The Mohiniyattam production had its lyrics and music by Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri, with Kalyanikutty Amma’s daughter, Kala Vijayan, doing the Nattuvankam. It was telecast by Doordarshan in 1998.

Other choreographies soon followed: Crucifixion of Christ, Mary Magdalene, Abraham’s Sacrifice, and even liturgical music of the Jacobite church. ‘Bhathruhari,’ a group choreography, included boys and girls, and Dr. K G Paulose helped in composing the script.

Milestone moments

Jolly gained media attention when he staged the solo Mohiniyattam ‘Pakarnattam’ in Thrissur later. The recital, the first of its kind in the history of Mohiniyattam, concluded with a tillana in Sankarabharanam. Composed in trisa gati by Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, the guru and mentor of Jolly Mathew, it was a tribute to her.

Needless to mention are the innumerable choreographies in Bharatanatyam. Karanas have been an integral part of his choreographies, and it was a crowning achievement of his career when he presented the 108 karanas with slokas of the Natyasastra at the Kerala Fine Arts Hall, Ernakulam, a few years ago.

Since 1990, he has been conducting regular classes, and his teaching methodology has attracted students from abroad as well. Presently, nearly 200 students are learning both Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam in his institution, including a good number of boys learning Mohiniyattam.

Admittedly, few dancers possess the varied academic qualifications that Jolly has earned through hard work – an MA in Bharatanatyam from Kalai Kaveri College of Fine Arts, Trichy (Bharathidasan University), a BA and MA in Mohiniyattam from RLV College of Music and Dance, Tripunithura (M G University), an MA in Political Science from Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, Prarambhic and Pravesika Certificates in Bharatanatyam from Gandharva Mandal University, Mumbai, and a Diploma in Draftsman (Mechanical) from ITI, Kalamassery. He was the first male Mohiniyattam dancer to be awarded the Senior Fellowship from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

G S Paul

GS Paul is an eminent art columnist and critic. He has been writing for national dailies such as The Hindu for more than three decades. Currently, he is the Editorial Advisor of India Art Review.


  1. Dr CK Thomas on

    Very good article comprehending all the aspects of the dancer, his training and achievements. Congratulations Prof. GS Paul.

  2. Guru.
    Natyacharya & Natya Vibhushan Dr.Naresh Pillai is a versatile Bharatanatyam Dancer, Teacher, Nattuvanar, Educationist and Choreographer. He is the one of the most leading dancer in India & international reputation.He is a Global achier award winner.And received Doctorate in this respected field.

    His Gurus are some of the foremost famous figures, Padmashri, Padma Vibhushan Dr.Kanakrele, Founder and Director of Nalanda Nritya kala Mahavidyalaya Mumbai, Kalainmani Smt.Jayashree Narayanan And N.S. Jayalakshmi From Kalakshetra Chennai.

    As a dancer and film celebrity,Choreographer, Nattuvanar, Mentor Dr. Naresh Pillai has performing at prestigious venues around the world time to time and receiving critical acclaim in daily news.

    Scores of students have trained under his guidance and a number of them have distinguished performing artists and teaching careers around the world.

    As an educator, ambassador he conducts Dance classes, advance
    master classes , Nattuvangam classes, workshops, and performance. He has conducted workshops around in India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Nepal,UAE and USA etc.,

Leave A Reply

Exit mobile version