Ekathara Kalari

Ravi Gopalan Nair

Ravi Gopalan Nair was born in Nedumangad, Trivandrum to a large and interesting family. His father was the first person to bring black and white photography to their village, and Ravi began his journey in the photo studio. As a youth, he met many interesting people from different fields – artists, activists, and they would all gather at his studio to engage various issues.

He experienced many local theatre forms that Kerala is so rich in in the course of his life, and engaged further when his elder brother Venuji sent him to Chengannur to observe the Padayani tradition. His curious and dedicated nature exposed him to many learnings at the Louba Shield’s Kathakali school. It was also the place where he met the great traditional architect Shakuni Achari from whom he learned wood craft. In a quest to revive Pavakathakali, glove puppet theatre, he would visit small families who preserved remnants of this dying tradition. Venue’s survey had revealed only three such families. Raviji learned to make glove puppets under a project co-created by Venuji and Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay.

After Chengannur, Venuji sent him to Irinjalakuda, where he stayed for many years to know more about the local Kudiyattam theatre. There he met Walter Puff, who asked him to join his research project. He went on to France to join a project using Grotowski’s theatre technique.

Ravi returned to India with the support of Eberhart Fischer, the german Art Historian, and on a scholarship, traveled across Kerala to understand and promote folk theatre. It was during one of his sojourns that he met Pepita Seth, with whom he went on to work as a translator for a while.

After he had returned to Trivandrum, he was well known as a trainer and coach, and his expertise was in treating every single person differently, with minimum interference so that individual bodies could find their optimum balance and growth and flourish accordingly. It was in this role that he met Mousumi Parial, whom he went on to marry, whence she took the name Parvathy Baul.

Together, they co-created many projects. He would carve the woodcuts that she would paint. He would enact glove puppet theatre which she would score with her music.

Raviji created 17 masks and a full set of puppets, most of which are now exhibited in the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva. He took theatre art forms from Kerala and Baul to many international festivals. Raviji specialised in preparing artists for different stages and eventualities. He ensured mental strength that would bring peace in a high-pressure International festival just as much as a local ritual setting without expectations of being treated as a different person because of a high profile.

In 1997, Raviji and Parvathyji cofounded Ekathara Kalari, and started exhibiting Baul in Trivandrum through the Baul festival from 2000. They traveled the interiors of Kerala with the art form and also took it to many festivals across the world.

Raviji’s present phase is a time of resting and he says that the next steps cannot be predicted. He intends to create more masks, emphasising that the process can only be successful when it is meaningful, and that it will manifest spontaneously. He now undertakes his practice at the Ekathara Kalari in Nedumangad, Trivandrum.