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Dance - Kerala Natanam

* 13 Dec 2021
Guru Gopinath - India-Info Pinterest Collection
Guru Gopinath was born in 1908 in a family of Kathakali artistes exponents of Kaplingaadan style of Kathakali with a two hundred-year-old history in the form and nothern (Kalluvazhi) style (chitta) of Kathakali.  The great Kathakali artist Champakkulam Paachu Pillai is his elder brother.
Gopinathan had received training in Kathakali under stalwarts like Chambakulam Paramu Pillai, Mathoor Kunjupillai Paniker, Guru Kunchu Kurup and Chengannur Raman Pillai for seven or eight years before joining Kerala Kalamandalam. He belonged to the first batch of students at Kalamandalam which was opened by the great poet Vallathol Narayana Menon in 1930. His class mates included Krishnan Nair (later, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair), Sivaraman (Ananda Sivaram), Madhavan (Kalamandalam Madhavan) and Kelu Nair. Great artistes like Guru Kunchu Kurup, Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon and Vellinezhi Nanu Nair were among the teachers at Kalamandalam then.
Source: Guru Gopinath and Kerala Natanam by G.Venu,, August 28, 2020

With Esther Luella Sherman, popularly known as Ragini Devi, he gave his first performance in Bombay in 1932 of a form he had developed into a contemporary style, which was classical in technique and popular in appeal. Their performance took the world by storm and was the first ever exposition of Kathakali outside Kerala.
He is considered one of the epic personalities of Bharatanaatyam (a comprehensive term for the entire Bhaarateeya Naatya traditions) in the 20th century like Uday Shankar. He extended the boundaries of Kathakali by teaching this male dominated 'naatya' form to women too. His choreographic works dealt with subjects apart from stories from Bhaarat's epics and mythology - Sree Yeesunaadha, Sister Nibedita, Chandala Bhiksukhi, Kerala Piravi and the Ramlila of New Delhi are a few examples. During the centenary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore, he choreographed Natir Puja in which his prime disciple Tapati Chowdurie had taken the lead role. His path breaking form came to be known as Kerala Natanam. Once a palace dancer and principal of the naatya institution of the royal family of Travancore, he founded Natana Niketan in Madras, International Kathakali Centre in New Delhi and Viswa Kala Kendra in Thiruvananthapuram.
Source: Guru Gopinath-An epic personality by VP.Dhananjayan,, August 22, 2021

The very first institution to teach Kerala Natanam was 'Sree Chithrodaya Narthakaalayam' at Poojappura, Trivandrum established in March 1934.The Maharaja of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma appointed Guru Gopinath as Palace dancer and gave him facilities and grant for running the institution.
In 1946, when Guru Gopinath moved to Chennai, he started a dance school called 'Natana Nikethan' at Gopalapuram. In 1959, 'Kerala Kala Kendra was established in New Delhi (which is now known as International Centre for Kathakali). In 1962, Viswa Kala Kendra was founded in Ravipuram, Kochi and later shifted to Vattiyoorkkavu, Trivandrum.
Source: Seventy years of Kerala Natanam by G Vinodini,, Dec 2002

It was well appreciated that instead of trying to reform Kathakali and thereby contaminating its originality and purity, Guruji developed his own style, that was appealing to the masses who were then devoid of art and dance, without compromising on the classical background. It was he who brought Kathakali out from the courtyards of palaces and temple to the masses. Ordinary people in India, who had no training knowledge in understanding classical dance started enjoying it and appreciating it, only after they had the opportunity of watching Gopinath perform.
Guru Gopinath is respected as a great acharya who was able to develop a shorter syllabus and duration of training for the 12 years long and rigorous Kathakali course, without compromising its essence and without deviating from its classical tradition. Kathakali and dancing were made popular, which was comprehensive to the layman and connoisseur alike. He carved out a style classical in form but popular in appeal through which the fame of Kathakali spread far and wide. In fact his was a signal service to Kathakali and Kerala.
Kathakali style of dancing and training was a male monopoly. It was Guru Gopinath who showed that girls can perform Kathakali and Kathakali style of dancing.
The great Mohiniyattam and Kerala Natanam exponent Mulakkal Thankamani Amma was his wife. Thankamani was the first student of Mohiniyattam at Kerala Kalamandalam in early 30s, when Poet Vallathol Narayana Menon and Manakkulam Mukunda Raja started a course to revive this dying art form. After marriage she became co-dancer and partner of Gopinath. There is no denying the fact that the force behind Guru Gopinath's achievement was the relentless support and rigorous training offered to students by Thankamani.
Source: Guru Gopinath and Kerala Natanam by T.Sasi Mohan,, Apr 2002