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An epitome devoted to Dance: Guru Thankamani Kutty

Guru Thankamani Kutty
Guru Thankamani Kutty

Text:Paul Nicodamus

Guru Thankamani Kutty is a leading exponent of Bharatanatyam and Mohini Attam in India, especially in Eastern India, where she, along with her husband, Guru Govindan Kutty, a Kathakali maestro, popularized these classical dance forms among the art lovers.In the year 2017, Kalamandalam Kolkata is celebrating its Golden Jubilee with round the year performances of classical dance and special dance productions at various centers, all over India and abroad.

Born in a family of art lovers in Kerala, on September 4, 1940, Thankamani Kutty was fascinated towards classical dance at a young age, after she happened to watch a live Bharatanatyam performance. The performance completely “mesmerized” her, Thankamani Kutty told The Dance Indiain an interview.

She later joined the Kerala Kalamandalam, a premier institution of performing arts, located at Cheruthuruthi, near Trichur, in Kerala, where she received training in Bharathanatyam as well as in Mohini Attam.

She was trained in Bharatanatyam by gurus like Rajaratnam  Pillai, Maruthappa Pillai, Arunachalam Pillai and Rajalakshmi Ammal, while Chinnammu Amma groomed her in Mohiniyattam. She graduated from Kerala Kalamandalam, securing diplomas in Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam.

During her young, formative years, Thankamani Kutty used to watch the performances of leading Bharatanatyam artistes of the day, including Kumari Kamala, disciple of Ramiah Pillai. Later on, she drew inspiration from Yamini Krishnamurthy, Padma Subramaniam and Santa Rao.

In 1958, she married Shri Govindan Kutty, who had trained in Kathakali at the same institution, and the young couple moved to Kolkatta. They made Kolkatta their ‘karmabhoomi’ and held performances of their classical dances, receiving high appreciation from the audiences.  Encouraged by the good response to their pioneering efforts to showcase these classical south Indian dances, Smt Thankamani and Shri Govindan Kutty started teaching these dances to the local aspirants.

The first phase of their dream project came to fruition in 1968, when Smt Thankamani Kutty and her husband established ‘Kalamandalam Calcutta’, where these art forms are being taught. The institution, through its various activities, has played a major part in popularizing south India’s rich cultural heritage in north eastern India.In due course, Kalamandalam Calcutta (now Kolkatta) became famous and expanded with addition of six more centres, having a total of 20 teachers and 1,500 students on its rolls.

It has now become an arts institution of international repute and has so far trained 30,000 dancers, many of whom are professionals while some are gurus in well known dance institutions.

Currently, Kalamandalam Kolkatta celebrates its Golden Jubilee with year round classical dance performances all over India and abroad.Speaking about their challenges so far, Guru Thankamani Kutty said she and her husband Guru Shri Govindan Kutty, had their share of difficulties and challenges in building up the institution and having own building with all facilities under a single roof.

Unfortunately in January 2007, Guru Shri Govindan Kutty has passed away. The land for the building had been acquired, but the building plan had still not been approved.

The construction of the building at this stage, without help from her husband, was a big challenge faced by her.Today the school has its own building of 22,000 sq. ft. covered area with spacious class rooms, auditorium, library, students’ hostel, and other facilities.In her views about the role of dance in society, Guru Thankamani Kutty says that, a student of Bharatanatyam (and other classical dances) will be well versed in India’s cultural heritage in the course of her dance education. Secondly, classical dances impart discipline among the youth and thirdly, it helps development of personality.She says the classical dance forms and traditions in India are too deeply rooted. However, she added, “I look forward to experiments and fusion if they are aesthetically presented and are soothing to the eyes and ears.”

In appreciation of her contribution to classical arts and dance, Guru Thankamani Kutty has received numerous awards and accolades from various government and social organizations. 

The dance guru received the award “Shatabdir Nari” (The woman of the Millennium) at the Biswa Banga Sammelan, Kolkata in 1999-2000. Earlier, she was recipient of “All India Critics” award for Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam in 1998, “Nritya Natak Sangeet  Drishya Kala Akademy” award of West Bengal Government in 1993, the “Prashastika”  award  instituted by the West Bengal Government’s  Information and Cultural Affairs Department, ,for contribution in the field of dance, in 1995, the Asians Paints “Shiromani Puraskar” in 1992, and  “Bharat Nirman Talented Ladies” award from “Build India” (an All India organization promoting constructive programs in all spheres of life ) in 1997.

Guru Thankamani Kutty also received accolades from her home state, Kerala too. She felt very exhilarated when she received “Kerala Kalamandalam Award for Mohiniattam” – 2008, a prestigious award from her alma mater. Two years earlier, she had received “Kalaprathibha Puraskaram” from “Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy”. She is also a recipient of ‘Pravasi Award for Dance’ from the Kerala Government’s Department of Information and Cultural Affairs.

Guru Thankamani Kutty was conferred with an honorary “Degree of Doctor of Literature” at the 36th Annual Convocation of Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, in 2011.In Orissa, she was awarded “Kelucharan Mahapatra Smriti Purashkar”  by  “Nandanik”  in  2007 and “Bharatmuni Samman – 2008”  by Kalingayana Touryatrikam, Bhubaneswar, Orissa.

Other awards received by her in recent years include “Heritage Sanman – A creative personality” award from Heritage World Society, Kolkata in 2010,“Life Time Achievement” award by Indo Occidental Symbiosis, Kolkata, on the occasion of 150th Birth Anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, at Kolkata in  2011,  “Life Time Achievement Award” from Rotary International through Rotary Club of Calcutta East Central, in 2011,  “Vibhakar Puraskar” from Bangiya Sangeet Parishad, Howrah in 2012, “Bangabibhushan” Award from Information & Cultural Department, Govt. of West Bengal in 2013, and “Nazrul Puraskar” from Nazrul Academy,  West Bengal, in 2016,.