Kink Riley reinvented a distinct Mohiniyattam style.

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Kink Rally
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Kink Relay | Photo credit: Special Arrangements

The demise of Kanak Riley marks the end of an era in the history of Mohiniyattam, the lyrical dance form of Kerala. For more than half a century, she walked the country’s terpsichorean fields like a colossus, reviving and enriching dance. In this pursuit, she was able to put Mohanyatham on a pedestal with a solid foundation of shastras, including Natyashastra, Balaramabharatham and Hastalakshanadipika.

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Kanak Riley helped come up with a logical teaching and introduced it to his institution, the Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, which was established in 1972 to popularize his style.

Thanks to Kanak Riley’s efforts, the institute became affiliated with the University of Bombay, becoming the first institution in the country to award BFA, MFA and later PhD degrees in Mohiniyattam – none in Mohiniyattam’s land of Kerala. Even the institution could not be proud. .

Although Kanak Riley was selected for the medical course, he chose to study law and graduated from the University of Manchester, UK with a specialization in aviation law and was offered a lucrative job with Air India. done Then why did he choose dance?

He once explained, “In my long life there is one word that comes as a thread that binds all the other strands, and that is dance”.

He made his first attempt with Kathakali during his childhood days at Kanak Riley at Shantiniketan in Kolkata. He made his debut under Raghavan Nair. Once, the dancer Uday Shankar, who was visiting Shantiniketan, blessed him and encouraged him to train. It continued for many years at home under Panchali Karunakara Pannekar in Mumbai, although she faced stiff resistance from relatives who described Kathakali as a ‘Rakshasi dance’. In no time, she became a prolific actress.

Kanak Riley had a deep love for the arts of Kerala. When he was selected for the first Guru Gopinath National Priskaram instituted by the Kerala government in 2019, he said, “All these years, I have identified myself with the people of Kerala, and now your government has It has also been confirmed.”

It was launched in Mohiniyattam by Kalamandalam PN Rajalakshmi, a Kathakali actor, based in Mumbai. He was drawn by Lasya’s exquisite charm and determined to trace the roots of the dance, which had first been revived during the reign of Swati Tirunal (19th century), and later declined thanks to arclights. had disappeared from For various reasons. The dance form had to wait until 1932 to be revived by poet Valathol Narayan Menon. Even after the passage of three decades, it had not yet taken concrete shape.

A study grant from the Sangeet Natak Akademi was a boon on this occasion as it enabled Kanak Riley to meet living artists and scholars who could enlighten him on the evolutionary stages of Mohanyatam. His pursuit was fueled by a grant from the Ford Foundation. She met and filmed survivors like Kalpurathe Kanjukti Amma, Thotasari Chinmu Amma and Kalamandalam Kalyani Kutty Amma. Incidentally, the recording is a prized possession in the archives of his institute in Mumbai. A thorough analysis of the performances of these dancers helped him create a basic structure.

As part of this process, Kanak Riley met the sage Kavalam Narayan Pannekar, a well-known authority on Kerala’s esoteric cultural ethics. The oft-repeated criticism that Mohiniyattam appears to be a ‘poor cousin of Bharatanatyam’ can be dispelled as it introduced Swapna Sangeetham and its rhythms with the help of Narayana Panicker. To his surprise, he found that the basic oscillating movements adopted by Mohiniyattam were beautifully supported by the Swapna Sangeetham and the gamakas of the rhythms, thus giving the dance an indigenous Kerala flavor.

This resulted in the birth of the much popular ‘Kunk Riley style’ of Mohiniyattam. A number of invaluable productions choreographed with the help of Narayana Panicker are preserved in the archives of his institute Nalanda and taught there.

Kink Riley’s mesmerizing style has earned him countless accolades. She was the first Mohanyattam dancer to be honored by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the first to be awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan and the Kalidas Samman by the Government of India. His authored books, incl Bha Narupana And Mohiniyattam – Song Dance are part of the curriculum of institutions, even in Kerala, that teach mohinyattam at the university level.

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