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Kavalam Narayana Panikkar (1928-2016)
- Dr. Kanak Rele

June 28, 2016

On June 26, I lost a dear friend, Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, the renowned poet - dramatist of Kerala. But my association with him has been entirely in Mohiniattam. Some 35 years ago he came searching for me through a common friend. He had heard of my sustained efforts for reviving Mohiniattam which was facing extinction.

It is at this juncture that Kavalam (as I came to call him) met me. After watching me dance he only commented, "You need to discard the Carnatic music mode and start using Sopaana Sangeetam." From my childhood I had been well acquainted with Sopaana Sangeetam which is the base for Kathakali which I had learnt from the great 'Panchali' Karunakara Panikkar. I actually loved the idea.

Very few people know that Kavalam was also a fine musicologist. He had done deep research in the indigenous 'taalas' of Kerala. All this superb knowledge he brought in the music for Mohiniattam. I choreographed and danced to his lyrics and music and together we placed Mohiniattam on the high pedestal that it deserves.

On Saturday I heard about his deteriorating health. He was semi-conscious. On Sunday, my Mohiniattam team of Nalanda and I dashed to Thiruvananthapuram. It was distressing to see him gasping for breath. He was obviously in pain. But he recognized us and showed his happiness. Incoherently he told me, "Such a long association with you." Suddenly, he started taala fingering on his other palm leaving us amazed. He held my hand and then with a wide grin he performed a graceful dance pose with his palms.

Soon afterwards we left for the airport to return to Mumbai. I kept on wondering why he etched out the taala and the dance hands. And then I remembered. Sometime ago we had a highly innovative, in depth seminar with Kavalam as the main contributor. As a follow up to this seminar, I told him that we must have another seminar on 'Aesthetics of Taala in Dance.' It was this promise that his sharp memory was trying to convey to me.

Alas that seminar will not take place. But there are so many artistically vibrant memories to cherish. Rest in Peace, my friend.

Mohiniattam exponent Dr. Kanak Rele is a dance scholar and Founder-Principal of the renowned college of classical dance Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya in Mumbai.

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