Kerala Kalamandalam – the leading University of art and culture in India

This photograph “Drummer boy” was exhibited during “YOUR EXHIBITION SHOT” at the BBA Gallery in Berlin, Germany. BBA Gallery was hosting this exhibition In November 2020. Additionally it was also be showcased from late October 2020 in the GuruShots Virtual Photography Gallery.

Founded 100 years ago, the school can hold around 400 to 500 kids which learn how to dance and play unique traditional instruments. Some of the instruments can be found only here in Kerala. The name of the University comes from “Kala”, meaning art and “Mandala”, meaning circle. Once the students complete eight years of studying, they graduate. It takes another two years to get a postgraduate degree. Students not only train, but also live here as the first training starts at 4.30 am. University attendance is not for free, however, sometimes even up to 85% of the students can be here thanks to scholarships paid by the Government, therefore there is a chance for everyone to attend. Every student has to specialize and pick a certain kind of dance, costumes and make-up art, or musical instruments they want their studies to focus on. It is not possible to study music and dance just in general.

In the university both female and male students between the age of 11 to 20 are welcomed. One of the most interesting classes we saw was for sure the Kathakali (the famous dance with the green/red face mask). To learn dance such as Kathakali that is taught here, your body has to be very fit and know how to control all the muscles, including each individual muscle in your face and fingers for example. It was truly incredible to look at the guys making the weirdest facial expressions ever. You could just get a glimpse of the story from their faces even without knowing what the whole dance was about. At some point I spotted a guy moving just one muscle next to his mouth and I never even knew we had that muscle there! Unbelievable!

Out of 400 recent students approximately 20 boys are playing drum instruments. I cannot really tell which of the classes got my biggest attention. When listening to drums I felt never-ending energy going from one class to another. But then I could not stop giggling when observing the facial expressions of the dancers using the hidden muscles. Last, but not least, the female dancers performing whilst receiving never ending harsh comments from their teachers – wow, that definitely left me speechless! I would have probably walked out.

I can truly say that I honestly admire all the students at Kerala Kalamandalam University as they chose a difficult career and it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication at such a young age to really learn the details of the art.

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