World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Sunanda Nair

GENRES: Kathakali and Mohiniattam
First Appearance in EDF: 2014

Born in Mumbai, Kalashree Sunanda Nair is a leading exponent of mohiniattam dance. She is the recipient of innumerable awards—the Singar Mani Award from the Kal ke Kalakar; Natya Mayuri Award, Chennai; Kalasagar Award,
2010; Abhinaya Shiromani, 2011; Nritya Shivali Award, New Delhi; Nelluvai Nambeeshan Smaraka Award; and The Global Excellence Award, 2012—all for excellence in dance. In 2012, Sunanda was also awarded the Kalashree from the most prestigious Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi. Sunanda is today a research student of dance, under the guidance of her Guru Padmabhushan Dr Kanak Rele.


GENRE: Kathakali
TITLE: Poothana Moksham
SOLOIST: Kalashree Sundanda Nair
COMPOSER: Maharaja Swathi Thirunal

Poothana Moksham, an excerpt from a kathakali dance drama, tells this ancient story: Poothana, a demon, intrinsically evil, is ordered
by Kamsa to kill every new-born boy. Disguised as a beautiful woman, she enters the pastoral village of the milk maidens, the village of Ambady, where Krishna is a babe. There, she suckles children with poison on her breasts.
When she finds Krishna, her heart momentarily melts with motherly love, but fear for her own life prevails. She begins to nurse Krishna, but then Poothana’s plan backfires: Krishna refuses to let go, sucking the life out of her. She finds her own death, and God gives it is a blessing: a liberation known as moksha.

GENRE: Mohiniattam
TITLE: Kubja
SOLOIST: Kalashree Sundanda Nair
ORIGINAL POETRY: Seethakant Mohapatr

Kubja, is an intensely emotional presentation of the classical mohiniattam form. The music is ragam yadukulakamboji with the rhythm talam misra capu. The choreography is woven around a famous episode of Kubja, the hunchbacked maidservant, and Krishna:

Kubja is physically handicapped and it is her duty to make chandana, sandalwood paste, and apply it on the body of the evil king Kamsa of Mathura. Bent with the grueling burden of carrying heavy vessels to the palace, her lonely sad soul yearns for beauty, solace, and love. She has heard of Krishna and his love, and so she pleads for him to come and rescue her, to remove her bondage of slavery. Krishna does come to Kubja. He asks for only a little bit of her chandana for his tilaka—the small mark devotees wear on their foreheads. In return, he breaks her chain of bondage and heals her broken body. So Kubja’s soul finds salvation in the hands of Krishna.

Mohiniattam is a dance/drama/verse form once performed in temples in spiritual devotion, and a synthesis of folk, ritual, and semi-classical arts with connections to mythology and nature. This dance form is not currently danced or taught in the Bay Area. Sunanda Nair, one of its few practicing luminaries, joins us from her home in the state of Texas. Mohiniattam means Dance of the Enchantress and the form’s lyric oscillating movements are said to echo the movements of Kerala’s palm trees and rivers.

The form probably originated in the 16th century. In the 19th century, in Southern Kerala, Maharaja Swathi Tirunal and musician Vadivelu shaped a solo dance form to Carnatic music. Later, in the 1930s, poet Vallathol established the Kerala Kalamandalam dance school, and mohiniattam was revived, accompanied by a plain-song style from Vedic, folk, and tribal traditions. In the later 20th century, Smt. Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma presented the form as dance unconnected to mythology. More recently, the mohiniattam repertoire has expanded to include group choreographies, folk legends, and contemporary themes.

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