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by C.P. Unnikrishnan, Kochi

Dec 2001

Ananda Shivaram, the globally known dancer (86) left for His eternal abode on the 7th Wednesday evening at 6.30. He was through his life enjoying the solitude of his village, Ezhikkara, near Cochin. We have lost the last link of the quartet who formed the first batch of the Kathakali section in Kerala Kalamandalam. Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Kalamandalam Madhavan and Kalamandalam Kelu Nair were the other three. Louise Lightfoot from Australia discovered the dancer in Shivaram, with whom he left Kalamandalam in 1947. Shivaram thus became the first Indian stage artist to step into Australia.

Born to Guru Gopala Panicker and Pathiyazath Madahvi Amma, on April 16th 1916, Shivaram commenced his gurukulam training, accepting his father himself as his guru at the age of ten. In 1929, enamored by Shivaram's performance at the Chittur Sreekrishna temple, the great poet Vallathol Narayana Menon and Manakkulam Mukunda Rajah, took him to Kerala Kalamandalam. This was during the formative period of Kerala Kalamandalam, supported by Kakkad Karanavappad also. With wife and co-danseuse, Janakidevi Shivaram toured New Zeeland, Tasmania, Canada, Fuji, Japan, the United States etc. 5 decades of 'Live - Dancing - Life' earned him a doctorate and the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Fellowship. He was a high rated teacher at the San Francisco University. Shivaram initiated in 1960, an institution for friendship, the See India Foundation and opened a branch in Cochin. Cochinites can be proud of this institution, which has been presenting to the tourists, a short duration Lecture Demonstrations and a selected episode from Kathakali everyday for the last three decades and more. According to P.K. Devan, Shivaram's youngest brother and the director of See India Foundation, Cochin, the institute leads the visitors through Kathakali to the ever-updated ethos of Indian concepts of spirituality and philosophy.

Shivaram, a fully trained professional of the Northern School of Kathakali (vadakkan chitta), discovered in his young days that it's the body language of Kathakali that should be exposed to the elites and connoisseurs, rather than its gorgeous facial work and costumes; hence he concentrated and worked more on the nritha aspect of Kathakali. Shivaram proved to the yearning that the totality of 'character and incident based emotions' could be delivered through well-designed body kinetics and simple costumes and makeup. Thus, the enjoyment of subtle emotional feelings need not be the exclusive privilege of the front row crowd alone.

Shivaram's aesthetic wisdom, devotion and courage worked as ancillaries to achieve and manifest his vision all over the world. He daringly experimented in his every presentation. This led to severe criticism and expressed objection in public, in some parts of the world. He was denied admission to a theatre where he was about to perform. Steadfast in his ideology and vision, Shivaram waved off all such negativism and cruised forward. The small physical figure in action on the stage captivated millions even with a tinge of aesthetic hunger. 'Natya must be accessible to all classes'; Shivaram practiced the great and foremost dictum in Bharat's Natyasasthra till he retired from the stage.

We have lost Shivaram but not his visions. It is for the sincere and committed artists to continue the crusade that the departed maestro has handed over to all lovers of arts. May he in silence guide us from the higher realms in our every step forward.

C P Unnikrishnan is a Kochi based Kathakali actor, critic and research scholar engaged at present in tracing the interlinks among the art forms of Kerala based on Bharatha's Natyasasthra.

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