Fourth National Sree Sankara Dance & Music Festival

Reported by C. P. Unnikrishnan

The Sree Sankara School of Dance (SSD), Kalady, Kerala, conducted its fourth National Festival of Dance & Music, as well as the National Seminar on Development of Kalady, from the 16th to the 22nd of May.


The school trains students in Mohiniyattam, Bharatantyam, Kuchipudi and Carnatic music.

The festival was inaugurated by Prof. K.V. Thomas, Minister for Agriculture, Govt. of India, presided over by Jose Thettayil, the minister for transport, Govt. of Kerala and the closing ceremony was presided over by Oommen Chandy, the Opposition leader, Govt. of Kerala.

The motto of the seven day programme was ‘Art for Social Cause’. These were the highlights. Each session, comprising of select events ran from 4 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.

There were dance recitals by well known artistes and senior students and lecture demonstrations too.

There were solo dance performances by select senior students, which included newly written and choreographed productions and choreographed ones based on existing old texts by stalwarts like Aadi Sankara, Sree Narayana Guru, Thunjath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan.

Also presented were group classical dances and singing by 217 students in the ongoing training classes and arangetram of 245 students.

Also, there was a new production – the Sanskrit version of “Sankaram Lokasankaram - A Naatyabhashya” – 10 scenes depicting the life and visions of Aadi Sankara – a classical dance drama, integrating the Mohiniyattam, Bharatanatyam, Kuchupudi and Kathakali styles. Lyrics and direction by Prof. C.P. Unnikrishnan and dance choreography by Sudha Peethambaran. Sanskrit translation by Prof. P.K. Madhuri.

Awards presented

Kalamandalam Kshemavathy was honoured for her contribution to Mohiniyattam during the last four decades.

The Swami Aagamananda Award was given to Prof. K.P. Babudas for his book ‘Sauryagunam’ which narrates the life and contributions of late. Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval, the multifaceted maestro and a specialist in playing chenda (the percussion instrument) as an accompaniment for Kathakali.

Also honoured was Prof. P. K Madhuri for having translated the Malayalam script of ‘Sankaram Lokasankaram’ into Sanskrit.

There were five sessions comprising of paper and audio-visual presentations and discussions on the action plans for the development of Kalady, with a special emphasis on the motto of the fest.

Recitals by Dhananjayan, Swapna Sundari and Bharathi Sivaji

Guest artistes, the Dhananjayans presented the well known ‘Manaasanjarare…..’. which was simple and captivating. Sudha Peethambaran, director of SSD, in her response session commented that she could see Lord Krisna, next to Dhananjayan. The experience wasn’t different for rasikas seated in the temporarily built auditorium with a seating capacity of 1300.

The story of ‘Sreekaalahasthi’, narrating how a spider, a serpent and an elephant, by virtue of their total devotion, were blessed by Lord Siva was presented by Gopu Kiran and Deepthi Rajesh.

An episode from Nandanar, presented by Dhananjayan and Gopu Kiran, in eurhythmic terms elucidated the psyche of the feudal landlord and the innocent Nandanar. The two hour long programme ended with Nrithyopaharam, a Tillana neatly woven by Deepthi and Gopu. Santha Dhananjayan (nattuvangam), Arun Gopinath (vocal), Karthik (mrudangam), Iswar (violin) & Sudhakar (flute) provided the music.

In the lec-dem that followed on the next day the Dhananjayans, assisted by their disciples explained the principles of ‘the Desa Paatrapranas’ and the Natyasastra norms for constructing hastha mudras – highly useful for new attempts in choreography.

Swapna Sundari’s Vilasini-Natyam was a new experience. In the lec-dem, in the forenoon session that preceded the evening programme, with a short video presentation, she explained what the art form is. There were minute traces of Odissi in the northern style and those of Bhartanatyam, Kathakali and certain folk forms in the southern style.

In the evening, Swapnasundari presented, among other items 'Sree Kaalahsthi' in the format of a padavarnam, and it narrated how Lord Siva blessed the devoted spider, serpent and the elephant. Although the same story was presented by the disciples of the Dhananjayans on the previous day, Swapnasudari concentrated more on the satwika abhinaya. The background music was a neat ensemble with Rajiv (nattuvangam), K. Venkateswaran (vocal), Lalgudi Ganesh (mrudangam) and Vijay. S. Anand (violin).

Bharathi Sivaji's recital commenced with Mukhajaalam, an item that exposed the pure dance elements of Mohiniyattam. Her disciple, Vinaya Manoj presented ‘Pralaya parvvatha manohari….’, a composition of Kilimanoor Koyithamburan, deliberated in the format of a varnam described the beauty and the ever-blessing nature of the mother Goddess.

Bharathi and Vinaya together presented ‘Kanakamayamaayeedum Kanakvaahanamathil…, a number from the Utsavaprabhandam of Maharaja Swathitirunal, a favourite of most of the south Indian dancers. Sadnam Rajagopal (vocal), Jayan P Das (Mrudangam and Madhalam), Kalamandalam Sreekumar (Edakka), Murali Krishna (Veena) and Sankara Narayan (flute) set the right ambience for this show.

The next day morning Bharathi addressed the students, making it clear that she was talking on Mohiniyattam as she has understood it. Her short video presentation supported her statement. Along with her disciple Vinaya, she showed samples to explain the training pattern followed in her institution.

Sudha Peethambaran presented a Mohiniyattam solo recital. Lyrics for these items were prepared and the nrutta choreographed by Prof. C. P. Unnikrishnan and Sudha together; music being scored by M.S. Unnikrishnan Perumbavur, who was also on the flute. Vocalist Sreekumar was simply marvellous.

Recitals by senior students

There were recitals by Ramya Varma, Reshmi Naryanan, Sreelekha. K.V.. Soumya Varma, Athulya Shaji, Asha Hari, Avanijalakshmi and by Vaishnavi, Laksmi. R., Pooja Mohan and Keerthi Satheesh also performed.

The Sanskrit version of ‘Sankaram Lokasankaram – a Natyabhashyam’ was presented on the last day. 10 scenes out of eighteen episodes from the original prepared text, comprising of 51 verses were staged by 22 danseuses, which won great appreciation of scholars as well as dance lovers.

Those who worked off the stage included Prof. P. V. Peethambaran’s basic concepts to emphasize the power of the dance medium to deal with the contemporary issues were put into lyrical texts and directed by Prof. C.P. Unnikrishnan; Sudha Peetambaran worked on the integration of pure dance elements.

M. S. Unnikrishnan scored the of music for all the solo items which were rendered by Sreekumar Oorakam, supported by Venu Kurumasseri on mrudangam and madhalam, Babu Palluruthy on tabala, Tripunithura Krishnadas on edakka, M.S. Unnikrishnan on flute and Baburaj Perumbavur on violin and keyboard.

A team of 26 makeup artists under the leadership of Babu Manikkamangalam and Joy Potta worked backstage on all the five days.