Still young for Kathakali: 61-year-old Kerala woman cherishes her dancing dreams

Making her Kathakali arangettam at 57, Jeegi Sarat has proved that nothing is impossible, reports Anuja Susan Varghese
Still young for Kathakali: 61-year-old Kerala woman cherishes her dancing dreams

ERNAKULAM: When the mind is focused on a goal, age or circumstance is hardly an obstacle. Add a dash of talent, and the result is often awe-inspiring. Well, Jeegi Sarat simply decided to learn a complex artform, at a not so young age of 51. Proving that nothing is impossible, her indefatigable passion for art led her to make her kathakali debut -- arangettam -- at 57. And the Cheranalloor resident, now 61, has grown in confidence to yearn for a cherished Krishna vesham on stage.

Coming from an artistically inclined family, with her parents having excelled as dancers, Jeegi’s heart was set on learning Kerala’s classical artform even as she participated enthusiastically in thiruvathirakali during Onam for several years. The strong cultural bonds only fanned the embers of passion for kathakali further.

Starting from home at peak hours, around 8am, when buses are jam-packed with commuters, Jeegi and her thiruvathira teacher, Vijayalakshmi, did not hesitate to even stand on the footboard to travel to Tripunithura for kathakali sessions. Damodara Pisharody, a disciple of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, was her guru.

“I’ve always had a passion for dance, and used to practise classical dances like bharatanatyam from a young age,” Jeegi says.“Sitting idle at home, after years of familial responsibilities had eased, did not quite feel alright to me. Though I used to perform thiruvathira, my teacher’s desire to play a Krishna vesham at least once, triggered a wish to learn the dance drama that was, to me, entirely unfamiliar and complicated.”

Her kathakali arangettam—in which she enacted Draupadi in Dhuryodhanavadham—was staged at the Bhagavathy temple, Cheranalloor, in December 2018. “Before starting kathakali training, I had performed thiruvathira at the Cheranalloor temple for eight years. The sessions were organised once a week, mostly on Wednesdays, for around an hour,” she recalls.Jeegi also credits her husband, Sarat, with helping her understand the art form.

“Whenever we went to watch kathakali, he would explain to me the meaning of each mudra. With all that background, it was not too difficult to learn kathakali.But, initially, I had to strain a little to pick up the facial expressions. Later, it became much easier,” she recounts. Her family has been a strong pillar of support, with her son, Anand, paying for the classes. Inspired by Jeegi, her daughter, Arati, who is settled in Dubai, is now learning classical dance.

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