CHERUTHURUTHY: A POET’S GIFT

The mighty Bharatapuzha river, lovingly called Nila in these poet-haunted parts, appears to have carved the tiny hamlet of Cheruthuruthy out of its womb and willed into existence a lush and beautiful countryside. The river has been described by MT Vasudevan Nair as the inspiration for many great Malayalam poets. This little village was chosen, 75 years ago, by perhaps the greatest of these, Vallathol Narayana Menon, as the site of Kerala’s first school of classical performing arts, known as the Kerala Kalamandalam. The village is also called Vallathol Nagar in honour of his work.

At the time, Kerala’s princely states were in decline, and artists were losing the royal patronage crucial to the survival of their craft and their sustenance. Vallathol Menon and his Kalamandalam played a crucial role by saving Kerala’s most significant art forms, including the unique dance-theatre Kathakali, from extinction. Students learn from the maestros even now as they did several decades ago at the school in the quiet village by the river. Along with them, tourists can take three month long crash courses in Kerala’s performing arts.
Cheruthuruthy was a tiny village, with one main thoroughfare to the south of the river. It has miraculously remained unchanged for the most part. Most of the modern bustle has been contained within nearby Shoranur, separated from Cheruthuruthy by a bridge. However, time has taken its toll on the Kalamandalam. A growing number of students led to a need for more space. As a result, in the 1970s, the government was compelled to shift the school from Cheruthuruthy to a 32-acre campus in Vallathol Nagar, on the outskirts of the former. The original complex, now known as Old Kalamandalam, is preserved midway between Cheruthuruthy and Vallathol Nagar, where you will also find the tomb of Vallathol Menon and the Portrait Gallery. Most classes and learning, however, takes place at the new campus in Vallathol Nagar.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO
a) In addition to the Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy boasts of Kumbaram, a traditional potters’ colony on the outskirts, as well as several temples with interesting local legends.

b)Kerala Kalamandalam Arts Academy
The Kalamandalam campus stretches across 32 acres. It boasts of a stunning koothambalam, or theatre, which though empty during the day often holds performances during the evenings. The Kalamandalam offers High School and College level courses in dance forms such as Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, classic art forms such as Kuttiyattam and Ottamthullal, instruments such as chenda and mridangam, and Carnatic Musical training. The kalaris or classrooms witness great devotion to learning and preserving traditional performing arts. Years of ceaseless learning turns a student into a master, a tough journey that not all complete. The highest achievements are marked by the prefixing of the word ‘Kalamandalam’ to the name of the artist. Kalamandalam can be experienced with the cultural tourism package entitled ‘A Day with the Masters’. Students of the Kalamandalam serve as guides through the koothambalam, the kalaris and the costume gallery. Besides witnessing classes in progress, tourists learn interesting details about Kerala’s art forms. For example, there are 600 hand gestures and nine facial rasas or emotions that artists must master, and the entire Kathakali costume and headgear can weigh up to 35 kilograms.
c)Irunilamkodu Temple
A few kilometres beyond the Kalamandalam, nestling next to a 75-ft high boulder, is the Irunilamkodu Temple, carved into a rock. The patron deity of the temple, Irunilam Kodappan, is believed to be an incarnation of Shiva in some myths and Subramanya in others.
One legend associated with this temple is that a Cheruman logger, while sharpening her sickle against a rock, found that the rock was bleeding. On excavation, the Cherumans discovered that the rock was in fact an idol and the woman had inadvertently chipped off its nose. They consecrated the idol at that spot, using sandalwood paste both as an offering and to restructure the idol’s nose.
Worship at this shrine is incomplete without a punishing climb to the top of the boulder to pay homage to the shivalingam at the crest. The climb made worthwhile by a spectacular view of the Agamala forests, emerald paddies, dense coconut groves and the blue hills that surround Cheruthuruthy.

d)Visit to Khadi Weaving Centre
Vision a quaint town in Southern India along the River Nila, this is Cheruthuruthy. Nila connects many small societies along the river, each with a story, culture and traditions that are still kept alive. This is also where the roots of the Khadi begun and still serve to this day. Khadi means handspun or handwoven and is a 5000-year-old process all textile makers and designers should be aware of. The precious fabric is often made of cotton however can be woven into silk or wool.The traditional process of weaving Khadi is simple involving no electricity. It involves the harvesting of cotton brought back to be cleaned. Seeds and separate fibres are delicately removed by a comb. It then undergoes a phase of cleaning commonly known as carding which produces a result of final fibres. Which then go through a spinning wheel and spun into yarn. Following this, artisans use this to weave, dye and sell to sustain a living.
Khadi is significant to India as it represents hope and Gandhi wanted India to regain back its identity gaining freedom under foreign rule. Using raw materials, villages began making and training villagers up on spinning. Allowing a living to be sustained in Cheruthuruthy.

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