We are happy to announce a new column by Guru Nirmala Paniker on “The occult beginnings of Mohiniyattam” every Wednesday, beginning from June 23. Watch out. 

Guru Nirmala Paniker has been a danseuse, choreographer and researcher of repute for many years. Though trained in Bharatanatyam at R L V Academy from where she completed the post-diploma course with a first-class, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma was her mentor and guru in Mohiniyattam. Strict disciplining under the matriarch turned her into a consummate performer. She also had an opportunity to get trained under Kalamandalam Sathyabhama, the chief architect of the Kalamandalam style. The long stint as a teacher at the Lawrence School, Lovedale turned beneficial for analysing the dance form in depth. 

Exposure to temple and indigenous art forms seems to have enjoyed enough clout on her even as a child. Piravam, her native place, was rich in a variety of them including Mudiyettu, Kalamezhuthu, Thiruvathirakkali etc. Perhaps the motivation for tracing the roots of Mohiniyattam to these art forms stemmed from this backdrop. 

Nirmala is one of the very few dancers in Kerala who have benefited from the choice of the right partner in life. G Venu, her husband, had already established Natanakairali by that time. Innumerable workshops on a variety of the folk arts organised by the institution gave Nirmala enough insight into their traditions. Another blessing was the initiation to Nangiarkoothu for which guidance of Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar was instrumental.

 To this day, Nirmala stands unbeaten in her findings on the relation between Mohiniyattam and this female dance theatre of Kerala. She believes that Mohiniyattam can be enriched only by drawing immensely from the female dance traditions of Kerala. Also ‘Balaramabharatham’ and ‘Hasthalakshanadeepika’ have more relevance to Mohiniyattam than Natyashastra. In this connection, she underscored the inevitability of delving deep into the local traditions as against the practice of going to places outside Kerala for research in Mohiniyattam. 

And it was with this end in view that she established ‘Natanakaisiki’, the dance research and training wing of ‘Natanakairali’, in 2000. Intensive training is imparted here only to those interested to pursue Mohiniyattam seriously. That ‘Natanakaisiki’ could revive many lost desi feats like Esal, Polikkali, Chandanam and Mukkuthi has been described as a watershed in the development of Mohiniyattam in recent times. 

She has to her credit scores of research papers presented in national and international fora like the World Theatre Project. Among the Mohiniyattam gurus, Nirmala stands out for the books she has authored related to dance – eight, including the monographs on ‘Nangiarkoothu’ and ‘Mohiniyattam, the Lyrical Dance’.


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