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We all have known that working hard for something we don’t care about generates stress while working hard for something we love gives birth to passion and modernism Yet how many of us have the courage to commit to something which we really love?
Take an instance of Prof. Kalamandalam Leelamma, the top danseuse of Mohiniyattam who recently lost the war against ovarian cancer and breathed her last in her native South Indian state a few weeks before. She took her love for Mohiniyattam, a traditional female semi-classical dance form of Kerala, to the new level and trod a suave path down with an elegance that was far past the visuals and body movements.
Since olden times, India has been a country of cultural heritage and dance has been seen as a holy action, a ritual that is even older than the earth’s existence. Emerging from Shiva’s (Natraj) Tandava in the destroyer form, this beautiful art of India has surfaced in various classical dance forms – from mesmerizing Mohiniyattam, and Kathak to Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, and Manipuri.
The word ‘Mohiniyattam’ is a combination of two words – ‘Mohini ‘stands for a woman who charms others and ‘attam’ means poised and refined body moves. Do you know that during old days, the Devadasis performed the temple dance called Mohiniyattam? It was literally called ‘The Dance of the Enchantress’ and represented vivid forms of feminine love like devotion, carnal, maternal emotions etc.
With her inner vision and passion for charting new territory, Kalamandalam Leelamma fused novel aesthetics into urban Mohiniyattam that will stay ingrained to this classical dance form for long even after she is gone.
This unparalleled performer, choreographer and exceptional teacher represented Kerala in countless domestic and global dance festivals, crafting a new course of glory and pride for India.
As the renowned Kathakali exponent, Painter-sculptor, musician-composer Sadanam K. Harikumaran recalls, when other dancers went after depicting the usual emotions of shringara and viraha, Kalamandalam Leelamma lent it a unique grace and dignity, threading divinity and spirituality in her performance.
On one hand, she depicted full traditional Mohiniyattam, on the other; Leelamma weaved the history, her new research, innovative steps and showcased different side of this classical dance to the world,
Although Leelamma was not gifted with the features of a classic standard buxom Mohiniyattam danseuse, she never let it come between herself and her love for the art. Despite being petite, she mesmerized the crowd with her physical kinetics, emotional eyes, perfect moves and polished choreography.
Her passion for Mohiniyattam led her to some outstanding research resulting in more than eighty new dance moves and innovative choreography styles that will inspire the coming generations for decades.
Leelamma combined the history on Mohiniyattam with everyday life and came up with new dance mudras which were never seen before.
Needless to say, she gave countless splendid performances and won many competitions and awards. She was elected as a panel member of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations for Mohiniyattam for representing Mohiniyattam on the global scene. She pushed the traditional boundaries of the dance form lending it a new grace and softness.
Her journey started from a small place called Mattakkara in in Kottayam district. During her childhood, she found her dance guru Chellamma and later learned and trained under a team of famous artisans like Sukumari Narendra Menon, Bhaskara Rao, Kalamandalam Sathyabhama, Kalamandalam Chandrika, and Ramaswamy, Vasudeva Panicker.
From 1977, she started experimenting with the medium and gave new form to the traditional dance, bringing in new compositions that soon became the soul and spirit of Mohiniyattam. For her, it was fluid movements and elegant body language, the subtle mudras, and expressions that spoke volumes without even speaking a single word.
She has taught the nuances of this classical dance to more than two hundred foreign students, finally breaking the conventional boundaries and taking the dance form to a worldwide platform.
Even though she is not between us anymore, nobody can ignore the contribution of Kalamandalam Leelamma as turning Mohiniyattam into one of the most popular classical dances.
She would always be loved and missed by the classical dance lovers across the globe and will continue to inspire countless students for this art form.
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