Keeping Karakattam in tune with the times

A 22-year-old dancer Anushapavithra opens ‘Allegra Art and Culture Talents Academy’ where she offers free Karakattam classes to students of government schools.
Anushapavithra teaches folk dance to government school students free of cost.
Anushapavithra teaches folk dance to government school students free of cost.Express | S Senbagapandiyan

COIMBATORE: Folk dances were never G Sudhakshana’s cup of tea. Like most 15-year-old children in her government school, she had not even heard of Karakattam.

But when Anushapavithra, a spirited 22-year-old dancer, was appointed to tutor students for the Kalai Thiruvizha competition in a school in Theethipalayam on the outskirts of Coimbatore, many girls came along. Sudhakshana watched in fascination as Anushapavithra swayed in perfect rhythm to the beats, gently balancing a pot filled with water to the brim on her head.

“Earlier, I was not aware of the folk dances. But I couldn’t take my eyes off Anushapavithras’ expressions. She didn’t spill a single drop of water from the pot throughout the whole performance. At that moment, I decided that I had to join her class,” she said.

After training under Anushapavithra for over seven months, Sudhakashana won first place in the Suzhal Karakattam in the solo folk dance category in the state-level Kala Utsav competition and was selected for the national-level competition which will be held in Delhi next month.

“I have been taught varieties of Karakattam such as Neerpannai Karakattam, Suzhal Karakattam, Poo Karakattam, Mayilattam, Oyilattam and Kolattam, etc. As a result, I could perform well in the competition. My teacher also supported me financially for the competition, it would all have been impossible without her,” said the thrilled Sudhakshana.

Like Sudhakshana, around 30 girl students from the government schools of Theethipalayam, Kalampalayam and Pachapalayam are receiving folk dance training from Anushapavithra free of cost.

Anushapavithra Kabilesh is a diploma-holder in Bharathanatyam from Tamil Nadu Government Music College and recipient of the Kalai Ilamani award from the state government. She has performed on over 3,500 stages and holds the Guinness world record for performing two hours of non-stop Karakattam. She has formulated Karakattam styles of her own such as Suzhal, Poo, Thee, Neerpani.

“My mother Jayanti was very passionate about dancing. I began dancing at the age of six and even though we were a middle-class family, she would fervently encourage my artistic pursuits,” says Anushapavithra as she playfully folds her one-year-old daughter’s fingers into a mudra.

However, she quit the job in the Theethipalayam school because she wasn’t given adequate amount of time and space needed to prepare the students for the competition. But when a few girls approached her personally with a keen interest to learn, she realised that this might be their only opportunity to learn.

“As I was a student at a government school, I am well aware of the challenges and lack of adequate opportunities for such students. Even after I left a few girls approached me with a keen interest in learning. Until then, I had not considered their perspective. I realised that I had to do something for them.”

She spent around Rs 10 lakh and opened ‘Allegra Art and Culture Talents Academy’ where she started providing free Karakattam classes to students of government schools. Getting wind of the school, more and more students joined, of which she only charges private school students.

Anushapavithra pitches in the money she earns from shows and festivals to manage the girls’ competition expenses. “I have been managing their expenses for the competition as they come from economically weaker sections and I have faced the challenges of pursuing our passion without financial support. These girls deserve a chance too,” she said.

When asked why she provides free classes exclusively for Karakattam, Anushapavithra replied “Karakattam has lost its reputation nowadays. Even though it deserves the same level of respect as Bharathanatyam, people don’t value Karakattam enough. My primary aim is to impart it to the younger generation so that Karakattam doesn’t fade away,” she added.

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