The main reason we chose to stop off in Shoranur is that the Kerala Kalamandalam University resides just a 10 minute bus ride away, across the river Nila. Kerala Kalamandalam is a performance school which has courses in Kathakali and Indian dancing. It is the place to study if you want to work in these art forms. It has been an artistic education establishment since 1930.
The students begin studying at 13 years of age and attend the school for 8 years. There are several different courses; Kathakali acting, drumming, make-up and Indian dancing. The students are taught in Malayalam and Sanskrit. Due to the 4.30am starts, the students all reside on the green and peaceful campus. There are around 600 students in total, some of them are international students from parts of Europe.
Fortunately, there was an award ceremony for some of the students one of the nights we were there. We saw each student go up and collect an award. Afterwards the students performed. The crowd was mainly made-up of parents and it reminded me of school Eisteddfods.
The ceremony took place in the school’s theatre. This was a relatively large building with an outer section for seating audience members and an inner square for more of the audience to sit and the stage. There were no walls, only columns supporting the ceiling, so that it was semi open-air and cool.
First we saw girls doing some Indian dancing. The costumes were amazingly beautiful. The dancers had red paint on their fingers and feet. The dance movements were controlled and flowing. The dancers had to constantly remain poised. Even their facial expressions were part of the dance and one movement could be as little as an eye looking one way. As with Kathakali, their movements were accompanied by percussion instruments.
We then saw 4 very young boys performing Kathakali. They had not yet begun the expressions so only did the body movements. It was great to see how the art form is taught and how the students progress. We got to see more of this the following day when we were given a tour of the school.
The classes were in small, individual buildings, with open walls, around the campus. There were only 2-5 students per class. We saw many classes, including a make-up lesson. The students practise the face painting on clay pots and make all the costumes for the Kathakali by hand.
It seemed like a great place to study. It reminded me a little of RCS with all the different art forms being taught in one place. I admired the students for being so passionate about, and dedicated to, what they wanted to do for a career.