PALAKKAD: For the first time in the 91-year history of the Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University, eight girl students were admitted to the vesham courses (southern and northern styles) in kathakali. Classes began on Wednesday. Till date, only boys were admitted to the course.
Three girls — residents of Kollam, Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha — have enrolled in standard eight for the thekke kalari (southern style) vesham course. The class also has a boy. The trend of boys staying away from such courses is cited as a reason for the new decision by the executive board of the university.
“Also, girls have shown their talent in every walk of life,” said Kalamandalam Ravi Kumar, head of the department of vesham, southern style. He said these students could continue till their post-graduation, which can be completed in ten years. The southern style was originally known as the Kaplingad style and the vadakke kalari (northern style) the Kalluvazhi style.
“While female characters in kathakali used to be performed by men, and it was considered a masculine art form, the times have changed,” he added. The vesham course in the northern style has five girls and a boy, from Palakkad, Idukki, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts. They too were admitted standard eight, said Kalamandalam Suryanarayanan, head of the department of vesham, northern style.
Celebrated kathakali artist Kalamandalam Gopi, who is also a member of the executive board, said the belief that boys and girls cannot perform together is misplaced. “Moreover, for vesham, boys undergo uzhichil (massage) to improve flexibility. Therefore, girls were not enrolled in the course earlier. This time, when the issue of girls’ admission for vesham was broached, I suggested going ahead with it as an experimental measure. The board later met and endorsed it,” Gopi said. He expressed optimism the experiment will be a success. “When girls are enrolled to learn thullal and koodiyattom, why keep them out of vesham in kathakali?” he asked.